November 6, 2020

Household Staff: The Risk Guide

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Pam Kresse solves problems before they happen. An assistant VP for risk services at Vault, Kresse inspects client homes—in person or virtually—to appraise their value and suggest ways to reduce the likelihood and severity of potential claims. She regularly shows clients the potential benefits and risks associated with employing domestic staff. Here Kresse offers advice on minimizing harm to all concerned:  

Finding the right people to work in your home: The importance of background checks 

When you hire a domestic employee, you want to know that you can trust them with your home and family. A thorough background check will help you feel certain that anyone you hire does not have a history of irresponsible behavior or personal problems that could lead to trouble. Be sure also to do a follow-up check every year. And if  you find signs of trouble when looking into someone who is already working for you, do not ignore it. But do get legal advice before taking action. There are investigative firms that specialize in this sort of background review, and your insurance carrier may be able to make a referral.  Among the issues they may uncover are:

  • Inconsistencies. If biographical records don’t match what they’ve told you,  ask about them. At the very least such discrepancies suggest poor attention to detail, but they might be a sign of dishonesty.
  • Financial stress. Bankruptcy, property liens, or excessive debt may imply a potential motive for theft. 
  • Litigiousness. Being a plaintiff in one lawsuit doesn’t imply much; being one in several implies a pattern. 
  • Criminal record. Felony convictions are an obvious red flag, but even minor brushes with the law (e.g., multiple driving infractions) suggest lapses in judgment.


Keeping your property safe: Strategies to prevent theft 

One important way to reduce employee theft is to communicate through your behavior that you take prudent steps to keep track of and protect your property.  Here’s how:

  • Compartmentalize responsibilities. The majority of household staff are trustworthy, but following best practices will thwart the odd bad apple.  Best practice: If you hire someone as, say, a nanny, don’t ask them—even in a pinch—to clean the house or organize your calendar. Keeping roles separate prevents anyone from having too much access to property and information. 
  • Track your valuables. Those bad apples sometimes start by taking something small, to see if you notice. If you don’t, they get bolder. Other would-be criminals substitute forgeries for artwork or jewelry. Best practice:  Formally inventory your valuables at least once a year. 
  • Avoid unnecessary temptations. Valuable items (e.g., jewels, watches) not intended for display should be kept in a locked space. Best practice: State-of-the-art technology provides many options.


Avoiding expensive mistakes: How to help staffers keep everything and everyone safe

You may be hiring people with extensive experience in their trade—childcare, housecleaning, and so on—but you still need to regularly communicate the particulars of your home, family, and the standards you expect employees to meet. Most important:

  • Identify especially valuable or fragile items. Your  housekeeper, chef, or nanny will very much appreciate knowing that this vase or that painting must be handled—if at all—with extreme caution.  Make sure they know which items need special cleaning techniques and which should not be cleaned except by professionals.
  • Insist that your life not be a reality show. Your home, possessions, and even some of your friends may very well be alluring subjects for social media posts, but such posts can become treasure maps for thieves. Make sure everyone you hire knows that your home is a no-post zone. That means no posting any pictures of your home or family, and zero mentions of your family members, location or property.


Preparing for the unexpected: Insurance coverage for homes with domestic staff

In the vast majority of cases, the people you hire will work diligently and with your best interests in mind. And you certainly want to provide a safe and fair working environment. Still, accidents and misunderstandings do happen. You can handle what comes up with these policies:

  • Workman’s comp and disability insurance.  If someone working for you is injured, this coverage will pay medical bills and provide income while they are disabled. Make sure you have it in place for all of your full-time employees.  Note:  Some states require you to carry this coverage.
  • Employment practices liability insurance.  Despite your best efforts, someone on your staff could claim they were discriminated against, sexually harassed or illegally fired. Employment practices liability insurance can cover the cost of legal defense, settlements and judgements. 


Vault is willing and able to assist clients in reducing the potential risk of their household staff.  We help  customers arrange background checks, install security and access control systems, and probe for any potential vulnerabilities. Household staff can be a wonderful way to make life easier and homes happier, and with smart planning there’s every reason to ensure that’s the case.

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