With the growing demand from baby boomers seeking help for aging parents, the home care industry has responded with a variety of provider options, from geriatric care managers to home care agencies.
Contractual provisions and employment policies vary just as much. If you are considering hiring help for your loved one, one leading home care agency recommends that in addition to ensuring quality of care, you ask questions up front about your tax liability and insurance coverage.
“Families need to be aware of all of the implications when considering hiring home help for their aging parent or loved one,” said Cheryl Smith, President and CEO of Kansas City Home Care, Inc. “Most people don't think about the potential tax or liability issues when researching home health care. It’s an emotional issue and sometimes the practical aspects are inadvertently overlooked.”
Smith also said that sometimes families decide to hire a private caregiver instead of hiring an outside party, such as a home care agency. But that doesn't always mean they avoid the financial and legal tax ramifications of being an employer. Many nurse registries and employment agencies don't actually employ or supervise workers; they simply find them and place them in a home. Because of this, the family is the official employer and consequently responsible for salary, taxes and other obligations including verification that the worker is legally entitled to work in the U.S.
Employing a relative or friend can also put a family in the same situation. Household help is anyone who does help in or around your home according to the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP). If you have control and supervision as to what type of work is completed and how, you are the official employer. If you paid a caregiver more than $1,700 in any year, the tax code requires you to withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you pay the caregiver wages of more than $1,000 in any quarter, federal and state unemployment taxes must also be paid. If the taxes are unpaid, the taxpayer must pay what's owed, and will face late filing penalties of between 5% and 25% of the underpayment plus interest, according to the NATP.
There are other factors to consider: with home care especially, employee injuries pose one of the biggest financial risks. Federal and state laws require employers to take out workers' compensation insurance. If there is no policy in place and a caregiver is hurt on the job, the family must pay medical expenses and disability payments. Typically, a basic homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover people working inside the home.
Discrimination or harassment suits from caregivers are another risk. Umbrella policies with a discrimination rider provide protection, but these policies are expensive.
How to best avoid these potential financial and legal risks? Hire a home care agency directly to ensure that the agency is the caregiver's official employer. This eliminates the financial worries and eases the stressful process of hiring home care. In addition, a qualified home care agency will provide training, bonding, insuring, and pre-screening of their home care employees. This will help you have peace of mind about the person caring for your loved one.
“In addition to bonding, screening and insuring, our caregivers are required to complete a qualified safety training program,” Smith said. “If you need someone who is specially trained to care for individuals with chronic medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, please seek help from an experienced, reputable agency.”
Source: Kansas City Home Care, Inc.