5 Things to Know When Traveling With Domestic Staff

Traveling with domestic staff

It’s not uncommon for employers to require their employees to travel. This is especially true for domestic staff, such as personal assistants, nannies, and caregivers, who are often expected to travel with the families they work for. Whether the family has homes in multiple states or they simply travel for work or for fun, having a dedicated and trustworthy employee who can help provide services on the go is indispensable. Traveling with domestic staff can provide tremendous benefits to both parties.

However, the standard terms of employment that apply when the employee is working at your home don’t always apply when the employee works in a different city, state, or country. Even if the employee is joining you on a relaxing vacation, there can be complex and overlapping laws that must be followed to ensure you pay the employee compliantly and limit the potential of paying back wages and other penalties down the road.

5 important considerations for traveling with domestic staff

1. Understand minimum wage and overtime laws in the area you are visiting

Depending on the destination, there could be different state or local minimum wage and overtime laws in effect. The general rule of thumb is that employers are required to pay according to the law that is “most generous” to the employee, which means the highest minimum wage and most stringent overtime rules. If you are traveling internationally, the wage and hour laws of the primary worksite location will apply.

For example, a nanny getting paid $15 per hour working with a family in Arizona is getting paid well above minimum wage in that area. She also earns overtime after working more than 40 hours in a week. However, if the family asks the nanny to accompany them on a trip to visit relatives in California, they will need to become well-versed in California wage and hour laws to ensure compliance with local regulations during this trip. Even if the worksite is temporary, the laws of the new location supersede any prior employment agreements made. The nanny will need to be temporarily paid $15.50 – $17.48 per hour (depending on which California city they’re visiting), and will also need to be paid overtime and double time in accordance with California’s unique overtime laws.

2. Read the fine print in your workers’ comp policy

If you have a separate workers’ comp policy in place, be sure to double check the fine print. Oftentimes, it’s only the main worksite that is insured against any work-related illnesses or injuries, and coverage will not automatically extend to temporary worksites in other states or countries. Policyholders will have to specifically request temporary coverage for the area(s) that the employee will work in while traveling with you.

Additionally, workers’ comp policies typically only cover activities performed in the course of the employee’s regular job duties. Any new worksite brings with it unknown risks, especially if your caregiver or nanny will be partaking in common vacation activities that insurance companies consider “high-risk,” such as boating, waterskiing, or hiking. While it’s rare, it is possible to get injured while on vacation – but having the right coverage in place can bring great peace of mind and ensure everyone’s safety when traveling.

3. Determine and document the work schedule

Regardless of how fantastic the destination or extravagant the trip may be, the employee is ultimately traveling with you because it’s a requirement of their employment. Therefore, all hours that non-exempt employees spend working while traveling is considered compensable time, and must be recorded on a timecard. By default, this is the employee’s regular rate of pay, though a temporary pay rate as low as minimum wage can be established ahead of time.

Providing clarity on when the employee is expected to work or remain on-call vs. when they are free to explore and relax on their own is critical for work-related travel. Household employers should designate scheduled working hours and “off duty” hours in writing and in advance of the trip.

If the employee is free to come and go as they please and is relieved of all duties for certain periods of time, that is considered off-duty time and is not compensable, even during a work-related trip. Coming to a mutual understanding of the anticipated schedule and how the employee will be paid is to everyone’s benefit: The employee will know when they can expect to enjoy their solo time, and you won’t be surprised when you review their timecard after returning home.

4. Understand what constitutes “work” vs. “play”

Time spent traveling and on vacation is inherently more fluid than everyday life. Because of this, it can be tough for both the employee and employer to discern when work stops and fun begins. Below are a few common points of confusion for non-exempt employees traveling with or for their household employers:

  • All travel time to and from the travel destination is considered working time and should be recorded and paid. From the moment the employee leaves for the airport or gets in their car, through when they are driving or flying, and all the way until they’re at the destination and fully off-duty. This travel time can be paid at a lower hourly rate (as low as minimum wage) so long as the rate is agreed-upon in advance and in writing.
  • Social situations can be tricky. You might wish to treat your caregiver or nanny to dinner with your family one night, which is a generous way of saying thank you for being a trusted member of your team. However, you’ll want to ensure that the child or person they help care for is being managed by another member of the family during your night out together: If the employee winds up performing their regular job duties, that is considered working time, even if it’s in the context of a more relaxed and informal outing.
  • Sleeping arrangements can also be complex on vacation. If the employee has to share a bedroom with the person they care for, which is extremely common for nannies and caregivers, then all overnight hours must be paid – even if both the employee and the child are sleeping. If there’s a chance they could be woken up and need to respond right away, then they are technically on-call and will need to be compensated as such. Because paying an employee 24/7 can add up quickly, household employers often find it less expensive for their budget and more enjoyable for the employee to pay for a separate room altogether.

5. Factor in travel-related expenses

When in doubt, follow the rule of thumb that employees should not have to spend money in order to work. If they are traveling with you because it’s their job to, then the employee is not responsible for any travel-related costs whatsoever. They must have all work-related expenses covered including airfare, lodging, meals, or even tickets to shows or attractions when accompanying your family. Reimbursement caps or per diem limits for expenses like meals and incidentals are best established ahead of time and in writing to avoid any confusion.

Some families find it helpful to provide the employee with petty cash or a family credit card and ask for receipts to substantiate purchases, whereas others are more comfortable with reimbursing the employee based on receipts for reasonable expenses at the end of the trip. Regardless of which path makes the most sense for you, your household employee, and your family, be sure to get it in writing.

When in doubt, consult an expert

Before your next trip with an employee, research the local employment laws in the area you’re traveling to and make sure to document all pay- and schedule-related agreements with the employee. Having pay-related expectations sketched out well in advance of the trip will provide clarity and avoid mismatched expectations or unintended compliance misses.

If you find yourself confused about the laws or unsure how to phrase the policies, be sure to consult with an employment expert. In many cases, a poorly worded policy is worse than no policy at all, so it’s important to ensure the agreement is airtight – even for short trips or when travel is an infrequent part of the job.

TEAM has 20 years of experience helping clients navigate the complexities of employment law for domestic staff. If you travel with household employees such as nannies, personal assistants, caregivers, or other service providers, our HR and compliance experts can provide guidance on pay considerations, HR best practices, and more. Get in touch to learn more about why we’re the nation’s leading provider of outsourced employment solutions for household staff.