Paying one person to clean your digs differs substantially from hiring a company. He or she will be your employee, not a contractor. You must negotiate pay and benefits.

As with a housecleaning company, you’ll want to hire someone you can work with comfortably. He or she must understand your expectations on what they’ll do and how they’ll do it.

The personal nature of your relationship with an individual housecleaner can be problematic. You may feel ill at ease giving orders or voicing complaints. Your employee may feel awkward about requesting a raise, extra pay for special jobs, or time off.

To help you screen prospective household employees and define a satisfactory relationship, we share results of our surveys of subscribers and other local consumers who have employed housecleaning help, guidelines for household employment, and a summary of employers’ legal responsibilities.

Survey of Employers

We surveyed more than 2,000 consumers who employ individual housecleaners. Here are answers to questions we asked—

  • How did you find the housecleaner? More than 75 percent were steered to their employees by friends, relatives, neighbors, or coworkers. The next most frequent source was advertisements.
  • How much do you pay? When we asked about pay per visit, number of rooms in the respondent’s home, and number of hours for a typical visit, we found big variations in wages. Some employers pay a rate that calculates out to less than $15 per hour, while others pay more than $75 per hour. On average, surveyed employers pay their housecleaners $110 per visit, which when factoring in hours worked equals about $39 per hour.
  • What other types of payments or benefits do you provide? About 10 percent of respondents reported they provide or reimburse for transportation costs; six percent provide meals. Ten percent offer paid holidays and seven percent said they provide paid vacation time, but fewer than four percent reported helping pay for health insurance or offering paid sick leave.
  • Are you paying employer taxes? A surprisingly small percent (12 percent) of respondents pay the employer’s share of Social Security taxes and unemployment taxes. Fewer than 10 percent withhold income tax.
  • How do you rate your housecleaner? We asked respondents to rate their employees on several questions. Compared to the average scores from consumers who rated housecleaning companies, the ratings of individuals were, on average, higher.
  • Do you have an explicit agreement with your housecleaner regarding pay, duties, schedule, benefits, and other aspects of employment? Seventy-five percent had no agreement, and only a handful of respondents had written agreements.

Screening Steps

When recruiting a new worker, always contact past employers and ask about the prospect’s strengths and weaknesses. Describe your expectations, and ask about any problems they may have experienced.

Before interviewing candidates, write out a job description detailing the tasks you require and how often you want them done. If you are picky about certain things, tell the candidate about them during the interview. If some tasks are out of the ordinary, discuss them.

Work out all terms of employment and put them in writing. Discuss and reach an agreement on pay, sick leave, vacations, holidays, hours, and rules regarding meals and rest periods. Also, establish a probationary period: It gives you and the employee the opportunity to back out gracefully if problems arise.

During the probationary period, get acquainted with each other. Be at home during the first visit or two, and explain any peculiarities of your home. As work is completed, discuss any areas of dissatisfaction. Do not let complaints pile up and then bring them up after a month. Be straightforward and honest with criticism and directions.

Legal Requirements

A major disadvantage of employing an individual rather than using a housecleaning service is the added legal responsibilities associated with being an employer.

Verification of Citizenship and Work Eligibility

When you hire an employee, federal law requires you to complete with them a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To do so, you must check the employee’s identification or other documents that prove either that he or she is a U.S. citizen or has the necessary documentation to work in the U.S. The verification form is not filed with USCIS, but you must keep the completed form on file for three years after the date of hire or for one year after employment ends, whichever is later. You can download the form at uscis.gov.

Federal Taxes

Federal law requires that Social Security and Medicare taxes be paid for all adults (18 years of age and older) who are paid more than $2,300 per year for household work. In 2021, the employer’s share is 6.2 percent for Social Security and 1.45 percent for Medicare, and the employee’s share is also 6.2 percent for Social Security and 1.45 percent for Medicare. If you employ someone, you are responsible for payment of both your employee’s share of these taxes and your own share. You can either withhold your employee’s share from his or her wages or pay it yourself.

If you pay a household employee $1,000 or more during any calendar quarter during the current year or the previous year, you must also pay federal unemployment taxes. The tax rate is six percent of the first $7,000 in wages, but the federal government offers a credit to offset state unemployment taxes (see below) of 5.4 percent, regardless of the actual state tax rate (you get it by filing Form 940 with your income tax return). This means that if you properly pay state unemployment taxes, the effective federal unemployment tax rate is 0.6 percent.

Payments are made annually by completing a Schedule H on your Form 1040 income tax return. Failure to pay these taxes can result in penalties as well as the obligation to pay both the employer’s and the employee’s share of the taxes.

Although you are not required to withhold federal income tax, you are required to file forms W-2 and W-3 with the Social Security Administration each year. The Social Security Administration records earnings and sends the information to the IRS.

For more information, see IRS “Publication 926: Household Employer’s Tax Guide.”

State Taxes

None of the local jurisdictions require you to withhold income taxes for household workers. State income taxes are the employee’s responsibility.

In the District, employers of household workers become liable to pay unemployment insurance tax and contribute to the universal paid leave program if they pay employees $500 or more in any calendar quarter. Maryland and Virginia require employers to pay unemployment insurance tax for household workers who are paid $1,000 or more in a calendar quarter. In all three jurisdictions, unemployment insurance tax rates vary depending on the wages paid and previous unemployment claims against the employer. New employers should register with their local agency:

Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Workers’ compensation insurance covers costs such as medical care and lost wages for workers who are injured or killed on the job. Legal requirements for employers of household workers vary depending on where you live—

  • The District requires employers of household workers to purchase workers’ compensation insurance only if they employ someone who works 240 hours or more during a calendar quarter.
  • Maryland requires employers to purchase workers’ compensation insurance coverage for household workers who have been paid more than $1,000 in gross wages during a calendar year.
  • Virginia does not require employers of household workers to purchase workers’ compensation coverage.

Even if the law doesn’t require it, you still may want to purchase coverage, since most homeowners insurance policies do not cover claims that would normally fall under a workers’ compensation policy. Without coverage, you could be liable for medical expenses, lost wages, and legal fees if someone is injured while working for you. You can buy a workers’ compensation policy from your homeowners insurance carrier or from an insurance agent.