Many people use their Direct Payment (DP) to employ Personal Assistants (PAs) to provide their care. For many people this is the first time they have acted as an employer and managed their own staff.
Even people with experience of being an employer or a manager can find that employing and managing PAs is very different from being an employer or manager in other sectors. This factsheet is intended to give advice on how to manage PAs, how to avoid problems and what to do if a problem does arise.
What should I consider when I first employ a PA?
Choosing the right PA
When you are recruiting a PA it is important to find the right person for the job. You should look for someone who has both the skills and ability to do the job and who you feel you will be able to build a good working relationship with. Your PAs will be seeing a lot of you, often in your home and sometimes in quite personal circumstances so it is important to find a PA you will be happy to spend a lot of time with.
It can sometimes be difficult to find a PA. In this situation it is tempting to employ someone simply because they are available rather than because they are a good candidate for the job. This can be a mistake. If someone is not the right person for the job from day one there is a good chance they will still not be the right person further down the line.
While the perfect PA probably doesn’t exist and you may have to compromise in certain respects, it is vital that you are able to establish and maintain a good working relationship with your PA.
When your PA first starts working for you they may not know much about you or the job. You should provide a detailed induction which gives your PA guidance on:
- the tasks you want them to do
- how you want them to do these tasks
- what you like and what you don’t like
- who to talk to if they have a question or a problem
It is important that you tell your PA all of these things when they start in their role otherwise they will not know how you like things done. Providing a thorough induction for your PA helps to avoid problems further down the line.
For more information on how to prepare a good induction, please see:
- factsheet 4.4: Induction for new PAs
- employer template 4.4(a) PA induction checklist
Including a probationary period in your PAs employment contract gives you the opportunity to see if you are happy with your PA and equally whether your PA is happy working for you over a period of time. Employer template 4.3(a) Example employment contract (written statement of employment particulars) (Independent Lives’ example employment contract) includes a probationary period of six months.
During this period either you or your PA can terminate the employment with one week’s notice as long as this is stated in their employment contract. However, once your PA passes their probation it becomes more difficult to end their employment and you would need to follow a more formal process such as a disciplinary process. For this reason it is very important to include a probationary period in the employment contract.
Shortly before the end of the PAs probationary period you should meet with them to discuss how things are going. You have several options at this stage:
- if everything is going well you should confirm that they have passed their probation
- if you are still unsure you can extend your PAs probationary period for another three to six months (up to one year in total)
- if you are still not sure about your PA after six months you should consider what is concerning you and whether the situation is likely to improve
- if you are not happy with your PA at the end of the probationary period and you do not feel the situation can be improved you can end their employment
If you end your PAs employment during their probation, you must give them a reason for this. Ideally you would meet with them to explain this reason.
What is a supervision meeting?
A supervision meeting is a regular meeting between you and your PA to discuss your PAs performance and any areas for improvement. In supervision meetings you can discuss:
- what is going well
- what isn’t going as well and ways to improve
- ways to solve any problems either you or your PA may have
Why are supervision meetings a good idea?
It is very important that both you and your PA are continually clear about what you expect from each other. Talking issues through regularly avoids problems in the future by solving them at an early stage. As an employer it is your responsibility to make sure that your PAs work in the way you want them to and that they are clear about what is expected of them. After their initial induction your PA should have a good idea of how to do the job in the way that you want it done. However, it is a good idea to meet regularly as over time the job or your needs may change or the PAs circumstances may change.
When everything is going well it can seem unnecessary to meet regularly with your PA but it is still a good idea to have regular supervision meetings. If you are very happy with your PAs performance supervision meetings provide a great opportunity to let them know this. People like to know when they are doing a good job!
Supervision meetings are vital if there is something that either you or your PA is not happy about. This may be because your PA is not keeping up the standards you expect or they have picked up bad habits or started doing things in ways you are not happy with. If this is the case you should talk to your PA to make sure they continue to work in a way that meets your needs. It can be hard in these circumstances to find the right time to have a much needed talk. If you have regular supervision meetings planned you will have time to discuss these issues before they become a serious problem. For more on this see section four: dealing with problems.
Arranging supervision meetings
How you choose to arrange supervision meetings will very much depend on you and your circumstances.
If the job is complicated, such as a PA going out with a child with challenging behaviour, you may want to meet with your PA after every shift to discuss how things went and whether there were any issues. If there are often, but not always, things to discuss you may want to meet every week or two. If you don’t see the PA very often or they are well established and there are very few issues you may want to meet once a month or less.
The meeting could be either an informal chat at the end of a shift or it could be held separately to normal shifts (in paid time) or if a particular problem comes up a special meeting could be held to address it. The most important thing is that supervision meetings are arranged in a way that you and your PAs feel comfortable with.
It is a good idea to make written notes of what was discussed at supervision meetings particularly if any problems are discussed. If you do this and the problem continues, you can refer back to your notes. If the worst happens and you ultimately have to discipline your PA you will have evidence of when you discussed the issue previously.
For more information on supervision please see:
- factsheet 5.4: Reviewing your PAs performance
- employer template 5.4(b) PA supervision template
Dealing with problems
Sometimes you will not be happy with your PAs performance or their conduct. For example they may not follow rules you have agreed with them or they may have a poor attitude to their work. Most issues, misconduct or unsatisfactory performance can be resolved informally and a quiet word, as soon as the problem starts, is often all that is needed to successfully resolve the issue. However if your PA repeatedly fails to improve their performance or they do something particularly serious (gross misconduct) you may have to formally discipline your PA. In all cases you will need to deal with the situation carefully, fairly and legally.
Dismissal of an employee is covered by strict laws and if you do not follow correct disciplinary procedures when dismissing a PA you could be taken to an Employment Tribunal. Summary dismissal i.e. sacking your PA ‘on the spot’ is illegal and your PA may be able to claim for unfair dismissal if you do this.
Employment tribunals are independent judicial bodies who determine disputes between employers and employees over employment rights. They hear claims about employment issues including unfair dismissal, wages, redundancy payments and discrimination. Employment tribunals have legal powers including the power to fine you if the tribunal does not find in your favour.
Dealing with minor problems
You should use supervision meetings to discuss any issues you are not happy about with your PA. If you need to, you can arrange a meeting to discuss a particular issue. Before discussing a problem with your PA you should make sure that you are clear about exactly what it is that you are unhappy about. It is much easier to ask someone not to be late, to put things in the right place or not to talk to you in a certain way than to discuss vague issues such as ‘I’m not happy with you’.
Except in cases of gross misconduct (see below), it is always best to speak your PA informally about a problem as soon as it starts before moving onto a disciplinary process – most problems can be easily resolved in this way. If small problems are not dealt with at an early stage they can become more serious.
If you are going to hold a supervision meeting to discuss a problem in normal working time it is best to do it towards the end of the shift. In this case, if there is any disagreement, it will not cause problems for the whole shift. Make sure that you leave sufficient time for the matter to be discussed fully and resolved if possible. It is important to make a note of what was discussed so that, if the problem continues, you will have written evidence of when you spoke about it and what was said and agreed.
When meeting with your PA you should give them an opportunity to explain and discuss the issue. There may be reasons for their behaviour which they can explain to you. Try to see things from their point of view and, if you can, suggest what could be done to solve the problem. At the end of the meeting sum up what has been discussed and what you have agreed.
If the problem continues after:
- you have spoken about it with your PA;
- you have tried to find a solution; and
- you have made notes of the discussions you have had;
You should consider formal disciplinary action. See below for more information on this.
The disciplinary process
Where an issue is too serious to be resolved informally or where your PA has repeatedly failed to improve after informal or formal warnings then you may have to pursue the issue formally as part of your disciplinary procedure. This involves investigating the issue, holding a disciplinary meeting and deciding on a course of action. Employer template 4.3(a) Example employment contract (written statement of employment particulars) contains an example disciplinary procedure for these purposes. There are several legal requirements that you must observe in order to ensure fairness and legality when carrying out the disciplinary process.
A formal disciplinary process may be instigated in response to:
- unsatisfactory performance
- harassment or victimisation
- misuse of equipment in the workplace
- poor timekeeping
- unauthorised absences
In the worst case scenario you may have to dismiss your PA. However, it is essential to understand that dismissal of any employee is covered by strict laws and that you can only dismiss your PA after correctly following the formal disciplinary procedure. This aspect of employment is governed by the ACAS statutory Code of Practice on discipline and grievance which can be accessed at www.acas.org.uk.
Independent Lives has produced a detailed factsheet on disciplinary procedures and appeals – factsheet 5.5: Disciplinary procedures and appeals – which outlines all of your legal obligations as an employer.
If you are considering formally disciplining your PA we strongly advise before you do anything that you contact Independent Lives Information and Advice Service on 01903 219482 for further advice or your employers liability insurance company.
Why do I need to keep personnel records?
Keeping records about the things you do as an employer protects you if there is a problem. If there is a dispute, having accurate records will act as evidence to help you to prove what has happened.
If you do not keep records you may find yourself in a difficult position if you are asked to prove that you acted in the correct way as an employer. Without written evidence it can be hard to prove something even if you know you acted correctly.
If you end up being taken to an employment tribunal the outcome will depend on what evidence you have gathered throughout the dispute and what you can prove. If you can’t prove your case you could lose an employment tribunal even if you are in the right.
What type of records do I need to keep?
|Timesheets||Timesheets provide you with a record of the days and times your PAs have worked. Timesheets are vital for calculating wages owed to your PAs.
It is important for you to be clear about what counts as working time. Sometimes PAs become friends and it isn’t clear what is working time and what is social time. Remember to check timesheets to be sure you agree that the times written by the PA are the times they have actually worked.
If you wish, you can use employer template 3.4(a) PA timesheet to help you with this.
|Holiday record sheets||Your PAs are entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year. Holiday record sheets record how much holiday your PA has taken throughout the year. It is important that you have a record of this so you know how much annual leave your PA has left to take. Each time your PA wishes to take holiday they should record the dates they wish to take on this sheet and you should sign it to indicate that you have agreed the holiday.
If you wish, you can use employer template 3.5(a) Holiday record sheet to help you with this.
|Sickness records||You should record all your PAs sickness absence. If there is a pattern to your PAs sickness (e.g. every Monday morning), then you will be able to show them this pattern if you have to raise the issue with them.
Independent Lives has produced several factsheets and employer templates to assist you with this task:
|Risk assessment||Each time a PA starts work with you, you must carry out a risk assessment to demonstrate that you have discussed with your PAs how to do their job safely and avoid hazards in the workplace. If you wish, you can use employer template 4.2(a) Risk Assessment for PAs to help you with this.
If your PA has an accident and/or injures themselves while they are at work you should keep a record of this. If you wish, you can use employer template 4.2(d) Accident record to help you with this.
For more information on health and safety please see factsheet 4.2: Health and safety.
|Employment contract||You should keep a signed copy of your PAs employment contract so that you have evidence of the employment contract.|
|Personnel sheet||A personnel sheet records contact details for your PA and proves that you have checked their right to work in the UK.
If you wish, you can use employer template 4.1(a) Personnel sheet to help you with this.
For more information on checking your PAs right to work in the UK see factsheet 4.1: Checking your PA has the right to work in the UK.
|Supervision notes||Supervision notes provide you with evidence of what you have talked about with your PAs during supervision meetings. Notes of supervision meetings are vital if you have discussed a performance or misconduct issue in the meeting as you may need this later on as part of a formal disciplinary process.|