How to a Hire a Senior Caregiver

Jan 8, 2018 | Hiring an Employee, Senior Care

Hire a senior caregiver

Take these steps to ensure you’re hiring the perfect private, in-home senior caregiver and doing it the right way.

Hiring a senior caregiver for an elderly loved one is not just any personnel decision. You are entrusting the caregiver with someone special as well as your senior’s (or your) home and privacy. When you hire a senior caregiver, it’s essential that the caregiver has the skills, attitude, and professionalism to ensure that your elderly loved one is happy, secure, and comfortable.

Also, hiring a senior caregiver makes you a household employer. There are many benefits to being an employer but also some missteps to avoid.

Here are 8 steps to take to ensure you’re hiring the perfect private, in-home senior caregiver and doing it the right way.

1. Understand the differences between hiring an employee vs. an independent contractor

You need to recognize the difference between an employee and an independent contractor. An employee takes instruction from the employer, has a schedule set by the employer, and uses tools and equipment provided by the employer. An independent contractor works under their own conditions, sets their own schedule, and uses their own supplies.

With an employee, the worker pays 7.65 percent in FICA taxes (Social Security and Medicare) and can elect to have federal and state (if applicable) income taxes withheld. The employer also pays FICA taxes (at the same rate of 7.65 percent). With an independent contractor, the worker pays both the employee and employer shares of FICA taxes (15.3 percent).

While it’s tempting to say you have an independent contractor to avoid paying the employer share of FICA taxes, misclassifying your worker is considered tax evasion and you may be liable for your employee’s FIC A taxes that were not withheld as well as your employer taxes. There may be additional fines and penalties.

The vast majority of caregivers hired by families are employees, and not independent contractors. Withhold the proper taxes and provide your employee with a W-2 at year-end.

If you have any questions about whether you’re hiring an employee or independent contractor, refer to IRS Form SS-8 for clarification. You can file this form with the IRS and they will review and officially determine your worker’s status for you.

2. Develop a job description

We discussed in a recent blog post how to develop a job description. The basics include:

• Position title
• Summary of functions
• Desirable experience and skills
• Working conditions
• Minimum qualifications
• Success factors

3. Conduct the interview

The same laws apply when interviewing candidates for employment in the home as they do for traditional jobs. Know the employment laws surrounding interview questions and view our 40+ Interview Questions to ask Your Next Household Employee.

The initial interview, or screening, can be done over the phone or by using a tool such as Skype or FaceTime. This can be helpful if a candidate is applying from out of state or if you’re hiring a worker for a senior’s home that is not near you.

You can then arrange for final, face-to-face interviews with your best candidates.

Having a prepared list of interview questions helps keep the discussion on track and ensures that all questions and topics are covered. A list of interview questions is also beneficial when you speak to multiple candidates. You can make fair and accurate comparisons and considerations by examining different candidates’ answers and responses to the same questions. Plan for a two-hour interview and, of course, be professional throughout.

4. Schedule a meeting with your senior

When you’ve narrowed your list of top candidates, schedule time for each of them to meet with your senior. You should be present to help facilitate the interaction but also leave the room and listen in on the conversation between the candidate and your senior. The candidate should be polite, caring, and professional. Your elderly loved one should feel safe and comfortable.

5. Perform background screening

When you’ve found a candidate you like, perform a background check. First, get a signed release from the applicant to perform a background check and contact their employment and personal references. Be careful not to violate an applicant’s right to privacy when conducting your screening. Provide the candidate a copy of the background check and keep the original report with their personnel file if they are hired. If you decide to use credit reporting as part of your background check, then you must provide the applicant with a copy and a summary of their credit report if they are rejected for employment.

You are not allowed to use any type of lie detector test during pre-employment screening.

6. Check references

References can provide crucial information about your candidate’s abilities, personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Always ask for and check multiple references. By listening carefully to a reference speak about your candidate, you can decipher enthusiasm for the individual or apathy. Be concerned if a reference provides vague or short answers rather than long and detailed descriptions.

7. Make the offer

No red flags appeared during the background screening and the references for your ideal candidate have checked out. You’re ready to make an offer of employment. The offer should be verbal and in writing and include position, full- or part-time status, start date, schedule, starting salary, and benefits. Have your candidate sign, date, and return the offer in order for it to be accepted. It’s fine to set a deadline to return the offer. All household employees are employed at will. That means employment is at the discretion of the employer and employee and may terminate with or without notice or cause. Employees are also free to end employment at any time, for any reason, with or without notice.

The job offer can also be the basis for your work agreement. Make sure you agree to a hire date, work hours, schedule, and other key information.

8. Follow federal, state, and local laws

Form I-9

Your employee is required to complete Form I-9 before starting work. Form I-9 attempts to ensure that only people legally able to work in the U.S. are hired. Employers use it to verify the identity and employment eligibility of their employees. If you knowingly hire an alien not authorized to work in this country, you may face a fine of up to $3,200. By using Form I-9 to verify employment eligibility, you are protected from liability if your employee turns out to not be authorized to work in the U.S. Keep Form I-9 on file for three years after the date of hire or one year after the termination of employment date, whichever is later.

Minimum Wage

Household employees like in-home senior caregivers are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must be paid at least the federal minimum wage. The state or city where the work is being performed may have a higher minimum wage.


Household employees must also be paid time and a half for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. While federal law exempts live-in workers from overtime requirements, some states have their own overtime rules. There is also the companionship care exemption. If care meets the definition of “fellowship and protection,” and less than 20 percent of the caregiver’s time can be spent on activities like bathing, dressing, preparing meals, driving to appointments, and housekeeping, then overtime rules may not apply.

State and Local Laws

There may be state and local laws that impact hiring and employing an in-home senior caregiver. Jurisdiction is generally based on the physical location of the household in which the work is performed.

Hiring a Senior Caregiver?

Download our complimentary Senior Care Payroll and Tax Guide. In this new guide, we lay out the steps on how to comply with tax, wage, and labor laws when you hire an in-home senior caregiver.

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