Your Guide To Hiring A Maid
By Michael W. Baird
copyright 1995 Michael W. Baird all rights reserved
After an exhausting day you deserve to come home to your oasis. The place where you can unwind, relax, and recuperate from the day’s turmoil. Instead, you come face to face with dirty dishes, smelly toilets, and sticky floors. As you look around you can feel the burdens piling up on your shoulders. Now you face a choice; strap on your plow and wade in, or shrug your shoulders, take a deep breath, and accept your house the way it is.
If you have ever found yourself trapped in this situation you will be glad to know there is a much better alternative. Imagine the serenity of coming home to a spotless kitchen, sparkling floors, and pine fresh bathrooms! If you are one of the millions of American women using a competent private house cleaner or a quality residential maid service you have experienced this peace. This has been the experience of Jody Becker, from San Antonio, TX, who recently rejoined the full-time work force. “Coming home to a clean house has made my job so much easier! It takes the pressure off after a long day!” she explained.
Maybe you relish the thought of having a maid clean your house, but you’ve heard too many horror stories. Your sister-in-law hired a maid out of the newspaper and came home to find the money gone and the house still dirty. A friend told you about the maid service she hired to clean up before an important dinner party, they didn’t show up and she was stranded with a mess. There is even the concern about theft and breakage. If these scenarios aren’t enough to worry about, there is even the “Zoe Baird” specter hanging over your head if you aren’t very careful. Don’t despair, basic knowledge about the potential problems of hiring a maid will relieve your concerns. With this knowledge, your cleaning experience will be a positive one.
There are two basic options when considering hiring a maid. The first option is to hire a private individual to do your cleaning. This has been the traditional source of domestic help for centuries! It remains as popular an alternative as ever. You probably have friends or acquaintances that are using a private maid. Finding someone to clean your house is easy, there are many channels available to find a private maid. This arrangement is usually trouble free.
The second alternative is to hire a maid through a professional maid service. A maid service functions like a temporary agency, providing maids on demand. The maid service industry has grown from a few small companies 20 years ago to large companies and franchise chains with hundreds of locations nationwide. Currently there are roughly 10,000 maid services nationwide, 800 in Canada. Maid services can be found in the yellow pages under the heading, “Maids and Butlers,” or “House Cleaning Services.” Before you choose which avenue to get a maid from it is advisable to know the workings of each so you can make a wise decision.
Private individuals have always been the traditional source of domestic workers. There are many valid reasons to use a private maid, but there are also important complications to be aware of. The most common reason for using a private maid is the cost. Usually it is possible to hire some one privately for considerably less than it would be through a service. This savings in money does not necessarily mean that you will be getting poor quality. By choosing judiciously you can find a quality minded private maid at an acceptable price.
Another advantage of a private maid is the added flexibility. Most maid services have restrictions against doing laundry, ironing, cooking and many other chores. With an individual you can usually get these chores done without any additional cost. Mary, a busy mother of two, describes her experience, “I have a maid that comes in a couple of times a week. She cleans the house and prepares a simple dinner. This gives me the time I need to just relax.” Most people share Mary’s opinion that a maid is like a safety valve relieving one area of high pressure and frustration.
As appealing as another set of working hands sounds, it is important to know that the use of private maids has come into some disfavor in recent times. This is mainly due to new laws or new interpretations of existing laws. It is an unpleasant fact that any domestic worker you use on a regular basis becomes your employee. They are not considered self employed! This means that you must assume the responsibilities of an employer. An awareness of your responsibilities and your potential liabilities is essential. This knowledge can help you prepare to avoid problems down the road.
In practical terms, becoming the employer will affect you in several crucial areas. Who can forget Zoe Baird? She lost the nomination to head the Justice Department because she didn’t pay social security taxes on a domestic worker. The IRS says that anyone paying a domestic worker more than $50 every three months is required to pay 7.65% of the worker’s wages as social security tax. You must submit this tax to the IRS with form 942. Failure to do this could result in a fine. At years end, you must submit form 940 with an additional payment for federal unemployment taxes. For more detailed information concerning these taxes contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040, request publication 15-circular E and publication 926.
There are also other expenses. Most states will require you to pay state unemployment taxes on all the wages paid to a domestic worker. The state will also require filing of a state unemployment form. The actual percentage of tax and the forms to file will vary by state. To find out the requirements in your state contact the local office of your state employment commission. The commission will mail you all necessary information to comply with the laws.
These taxes are irritating, but they pale in view of the liability you incur when someone is cleaning your house privately. Consider what could happen if your maid is mopping the kitchen floor and slips down, breaking an ankle in the process. You can be held legally responsible for the injuries incurred to the maid. This means you may be sued for actual medical expenses and lost wages during the maid’s recovery! If the accident is due to negligence on your part there will also be additional liability. Fortunately, most homeowner’s policies will cover some or all of the claim. Be sure to check with your insurance agent to find out the specifics of your policy. Naturally, this claim will not be paid for free. Expect to see higher premiums as a result.
Another area of concern is the lack of accountability. If your maid breaks something during the cleaning your only option is to try to charge the maid for it or try to make a claim on your homeowner’s policy. Unfortunately, most policies will not cover this type of damage unless it is caused by vandalism. Likewise, there is not much hope of expecting the maid to pay.
Theft is also a very big concern. Most homeowner’s policies will offer some coverage for theft. They will usually pay a claim but will require you to file a police report and pursue charges against the thief. If you don’t try to recover your losses through your own homeowner’s policy the likelihood of getting any recompense from a maid-turned-thief is slim at best. Keep in mind that these types of claims can also lead to higher premiums.
If these problems don’t bother you there are several places to find a private maid. The most common is the help wanted section of your local newspaper. Another good source may be found in local churches. Many churches will have some system of connecting people needing work with those wanting to hire. Don’t ignore your local colleges either. Most will have a job placement program that will match your needs with willing applicants. Naturally, the very best place to find a maid is from a friend or acquaintance currently using a maid that is looking for more work. No matter where you get potential help from always ask for several references and check them all!
With all the complications in hiring a private maid the trend has been toward using professional maid services. In recent years maid services have been one of the fastest growing segments of the service industry. However, this growth does not guaranty quality work. The maid service industry is very unregulated, consequently, you must be very careful before hiring a service (see the side bar “Maid Service Checklist“).
The work you can expect from a maid service will vary greatly among companies. Standard services offered include a complete basic cleaning of the house: kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, and main rooms. The service can be set up on a regular basis or just when you call in. Expect to pay somewhere between $50 and $65 for an average house. Most companies will also offer more specialized services such as spring cleaning or make ready cleaning of a vacant home. Some will even allow errand running, ironing, and laundry washing.
The advantages of a maid service are many. A reputable company works to protect you and your home. This will be most evident in their hiring practices. All references will be checked and former employers contacted. Jackie Bland, the regional director of The White Glove Maid Service in Austin, TX explains their company policy; “Before we hire any new maid we must be able to reach their personal references as well as the last employer. All new maids go through an extensive training program. This training includes several hours of video training and on the job training with supervisors. Only when we are confident that the maids will do a good job do we allow them onto the active roster. Usually only about one in eight applicants gets hired.” Any company you contact should be able to give you similar assurances!
To avoid future headaches, the company you hire should meet all of the following criteria. All maids must be employees of the firm, NOT contract labor. If you hire a maid from a service that uses contract labor you become the employer just as if you hired that person from a newspaper ad. You will be stuck paying all the taxes and accepting all the liability. Services that hire their maids as contract labor may be cheaper but you end up legally and financially vulnerable.
Ask if the maids are bonded. Bonding is the insurance that covers theft by a maid. Be aware that your word is not good enough to file a claim. If you expect the bonding company to pay a claim you must press charges against the thief and get a conviction. Without a conviction your only recourse will be to ask the maid service to pay for the loss or file a claim against your homeowner’s policy. Choose your maid service carefully! If the service has followed good hiring guidelines you can feel secure that the maid they send out is honest and trustworthy.
The next crucial item to require is insurance. Insurance will cover any damage to you or your property. The company should be willing to pay the deductible and for small items not covered by the policy. For example, most insurance policies will not pay for a figurine the maid breaks while she is dusting it. A quality maid service will be willing to step in and pay for the item. They should not expect the maid to pay for it or ask you to collect from your own insurance.
Finally, make sure the company carries worker’s compensation. This is the insurance that covers the maid if she is hurt while cleaning your house. It will also protect you from having a claim filed against you. Remember, a company that uses contract labor will not carry this policy. The bonding, worker’s comp. and insurance do add to the cleaning cost, but the added protection you get is well worth it. Don’t assume that the company you call has these policies, always ask before you commit.
Once you have verified these items and followed the “Maid Service Checklist ” you are ready to go! You can give up the burden of cleaning! It should be a relief to know there are actually people out there who are glad you have a dirty house and want to clean it for you. Remember, you aren’t paying to have your house cleaned when you hire a maid. You are buying free time to use on the things that are more important in your life!