Working with Agencies as an NCS

So often in the NCS field, I hear of students who want to work consistently and one of the recommendations we make to them is to align with agencies (even if they own their own flourishing NCS business) as that will provide them with more opportunities to find steady employment.  And there are some great agencies in the industry these days. 

Many years ago, it was hard to find nanny or doula agencies that would place NCS; mostly due to a misunderstanding of exactly what an NCS does or the misconception that there was not enough business to justify an agency making the foray into this niche of the market.  Now that NCS are a well established part of the postpartum care world and demand has skyrocketed, that is not the case.  But not every agency is created equal, so knowing what to look for in an agency is key.  I am going to share tips to help you evaluate if a nanny, NCS or doula agency is up to speed on best practices, industry standards and fair and legal pay.  All of these things are key to selecting an agency that will represent you well. 

  1. Identify their market: Is the agency local to a specific area or do they place nationally (or even internationally?).  Find out what regions they serve and if that will work for you.  Many agencies are beginning to realize that quality NCS come from all over the country and limiting themselves to local candidates only isn’t wise.  So rather than saying ‘local candidates only’ they are now accepting applications from quality NCS from anywhere provided you have the ability to come in to do the work. But some still place limits.  Find out before you apply as you don’t want to waste their time or yours. 
  2. Identify how you will be paid.  Is the agency paying you as an employee of their agency? Are they paying you as an independent contractor and what does that mean exactly? Are you being paid as an employee of the household and the agency is paid a referral fee by the client? Are you being paid as a business by the family and your company is paying you as an employee of it? Each of these scenarios has very specific legal and tax implications and ensuring that you are being paid legally is very important.  If an agency (or family) isn’t doing things legally, how can you be sure they will represent you well or support you if there is ever an issue? 
  3. Identify how the agency is paid.  Some agencies charge a daily fee to the family.  Some charge the family a percentage of the total contract (usually 15-20% but higher in some markets).  Some agencies charge the family an hourly rate (say $40) and pay the NCS a lower hourly rate (Say $28) and keep the difference.  And some agencies charge the NCS directly for the referral.  Let’s be clear: all agencies placing NCS deserve to get paid for their work, for the financial and professional risk they assume by having their agency, paying their proper insurance and taxes, paying for all the advertising, background checks, etc… What matters most is you know how it works, know that it is legal and that you are OK with it.  
  4. Wait, what? There is more than one way that this works?  How do you know where you fall in terms of legal employment and who really should be writing your paycheck? The reality is that in most cases, with rare exception, someone working in a home providing domestic type services, particularly where child care of any kind is involved, the safest legal (and tax) route is to be a direct employee of the household.  Otherwise known as a W-2 employee.  But many NCS have their own legitimately established business and want to operate as an independent contractor.  If they meet the IRS requirements, in most states, that is possible for now.  But how does that play in with an agency specifically? If the agency does any of the following; negotiates the terms of employment with the client, tells you when to show up for your shift, requires you to wear a uniform or use specific equipment, tells you your rate of pay, tells you when you can/cannot take off and requires you to give a specific number of days notice before ending the contract, or restricts your ability to do work in any way that would compete with them (say a non-compete to start your own business or agency in an area where they are established), then they are in control.  And this control makes them (the agency) your employer or at the very least, a co-employer with the family.
  5. Pay attention to their interview questions.  If they are all surface level questions or even questions that don’t really pertain to NCS work, then it is an indication that the agency does not even fully understand the scope of our work and likely will not communicate that to the client well.  That lack of education of the client leaves you in a vulnerable position, requiring you to do much of the heavy lifting to explain your role. If you are operating as an Independent contractor and paid appropriately, then it is fine that they would expect you to do it, but if you are employed by the agency or as a W-2 of the family, much of this responsibility should fall on the agency--ensure they are doing it well. 
  6. Does the agency have a loyal following? Some agencies place NCS and seem to be thriving, but in reality, they are burning through NCS and rarely retain quality people for long.  Other agencies rarely even advertise their positions since they have a team of loyal NCS that they take good care of who stay with them for the long term.  Find out who those agencies are and get on their roster. They are the agencies you want to work with. 
  7. But I hear about them a lot? Just because an agency is well-known does not make them a good agency to work with.  There are a few in the NCS industry that have a big presence but their business practices fall into a grey area in terms of legality.  Have a frank conversation with them, find out the specifics, and read the fine print of any contract you sign BEFORE you sign it.  Get clarity around anything you do not fully understand.  And do not work with any agency that tries to restrict your ability to provide for yourself or your family in your area should you stop working for them.  In most cases, that is not legal and it is wise to steer clear of them.  And pay attention to what other NCS are saying; even gossip, heard regularly and often enough, usually has a kernel of truth and should make you wary.  If the overwhelming information you hear is good, the agency likely will live up to it. 
  8. Be smart. What you do and who you are is in demand in the current world and most agencies are clamoring to fill jobs right now.  Don’t settle for anything that will potentially put you in a bad position legally or tax wise now or in the future.  And don’t be talked into something questionable--you are a valuable commodity and worth being treated fairly and with respect. Only by insisting on fair and legal pay in every position will things continue to improve in our industry and that improvement benefits us all.  

Whether you work with an agency, on your own or a mix of both, no matter what business and pay model you end up working with, what you are doing is vital to families and your professional expectations and behaviors set us all up for success.

Article by Newborn Care Solutions® and HomeWork Solutions

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