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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published January 25 2014

Bursack: Hiring private caregivers requires caution

DEAR CAROL: Both of my parents are in frail health with my dad being the worst. He’s had two heart attacks and is at risk for a third.

We’ve been using in-home caregivers, but a friend’s niece is a certified nursing assistant and would like some private work. We’ve met the niece several times and like her so my wife and I are considering this option. The caregiver could live with my parents.

My wife is afraid that we may have legal issues if we hire the CNA privately, but I don’t see a big problem. How do people arrange for privately hired caregivers? – Lawrence

DEAR LAWRENCE: Many people like the idea of a dedicated, in-home caregiver living with their elders and certainly there are attractive reasons for this.

Since you have what you feel is a reliable reference in your friend, you need to be the judge on how thorough you must be in checking the caregiver’s background. However, asking for references is certainly minimal, and personally I feel a background check is still a good idea. You may feel uncomfortable checking up on the niece since her aunt is your friend, but your friend should understand that while you value the chance to hire someone familiar like her niece, this is still a business arrangement.

Your wife is correct that there are many more legal issues to consider if you become the direct employer. According to IRS.gov, special rules apply to workers who perform in-home services for elderly or disabled individuals. Non-agency, directly hired caregivers are typically employees of the individuals for whom they provide services because they work in the homes of elderly or disabled individuals and take direction from the care receivers or their advocates. These caregivers are unlikely to be independent contractors.

If you go to www.irs.gov, you can pull up Publication 926, Household Employer’s Tax Guide. This guide will tell you about what you are required to do when it comes to paying into Social Security and Medicare for the caregiver you hire and should answer most of your other questions, as well. You can learn more about these requirements on www.ssa.gov. Type in “household workers” and you’ll see a printable document that you can use for guidance. You also should check with your state’s Department of Labor so that you know that you are complying with state as well as Federal law.

While these suggestions may make hiring a worker not connected to an agency sound less attractive, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t hire her. She may be the best option possible in your case and work out extremely well. You simply need to be aware of your responsibilities when you hire someone under these circumstances. If you aren’t up to doing the record keeping required to legally hire help without the assistance of an agency, I’d stay with your preferred in-home care agency or talk with your parents about assisted living.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.