Disability and life: what can go wrong with your PA?

Rupy Kaur is a young, British Asian, disabled woman, who is very independent and can be feisty when needed (so she says!). She is writing for DH on some of the experiences that happen to her on a day-to-day basis. Today… what can go wrong with your PA…


Hello everybody! My last article revolved around the issue of being clear in the interview process in order to attract the ‘perfect PA.’ However, like any relationship, a person’s personality cannot be truly understood until they spend a considerable amount of time with you. It is only through spending time with your PA that you can gauge as to whether the relationship is going to blossom and work out for the best! So let me tell you a story…

Once upon a time, I worked for the National Union of Students as their Disabled Students’ Officer and as such I needed to recruit a PA who would be suited to support me in this role. After interviewing quite a lot of people over several weeks, I thought I’d finally found the right one. She performed extremely well in the interview and I was really excited about working with her. Unfortunately though after working with her for just over a week, I realised that she was not right for me.

The first day that this PA started was on a day that I was leading a national conference for the upcoming week. The PA arrived on time and everything was going seemingly well until I noticed that she had helped herself to my fridge and was drinking a pint glass of milk. I do not mind my PAs helping themselves to refreshments such as tea and coffee throughout the day whilst they are working with me. However, as I live in a busy household (there are 10 of us), we all have to respect the household rules and share food and drink equally. As it was her first day, I explained this to her and she replied that she would never help herself to drinks without asking and that a member of the family had said that she could drink it. That was fine, and we travelled to the conference.

During one evening, there was a social event which consisted of colleagues and students that we were holding the conference for. As an officer, it was my responsibility to network with the delegates and to provide a certain sense of responsibility whilst there. Due to the job description, the interview process and a refresher of the rules about what was acceptable and what wasn’t, this PA was well aware of how to conduct herself in those situations. However, after 10 minutes of being with her, I had lost her. After a couple of hours had passed, I finally found her in a darkened corner of a room, drunk as a skunk and copping off with several of my colleagues. I then had to assist her back to the hotel and work with her in this drunken state, while she was asking me what my sexual preferences were!

The next day, delegates were all telling me how cool my PA was and how they had been texting her all night. I was planning on sitting down with this PA to explain professional boundaries until I got home. When I got back home, I was confronted with angry family members as my PA had finished all the milk in the house, leaving them with nothing for a couple of days. After asking every individual family member as to whether they gave her the go-ahead to drink the milk, none of them had – she was lying! I called her in immediately and she was dismissed for gross misconduct. The issue was not about the milk but rather the fact that she had lied. A PA can be involved in nearly every aspect of your life and having a relationship based on trust is the key in order for it to be successful. This trust was broken and this was the reason as to why she had to be dismissed.

I have many stories about bad PAs however, this blog is not about that, but rather protecting yourself. When I first became an employer of PAs through direct payments, I felt that the system had neglected me in terms of providing me with the skills to manage my PAs (I still think that today too). So here are some lessons that I have learnt over the years:

  • Job descriptions and person specifications – it is very important that you tailor the job description to fit you as a person. For instance, my life currently revolves around University and therefore I need a PA with a certain level of education in order to write notes whilst in lectures. Some people say that I’m snobby, but at the end of the day this is my life and I have certain expectations. Don’t be afraid to lay your cards out.
  • Contract – prior to the PA starting, it is very important that you both sign a contract. Again, this outlines expectations from both parties and is legally bound documentation that protects both of you should things go wrong. It is very important that you provide a probationary period within the contract which gives you flexibility of dismissing your PA, with due reason, should things not work out. I normally give a probationary period of three-six months.
  • Providing training – it is important that you can provide training to your PAs in order for them to have the appropriate skills to support you, such as moving and handling. I know of somebody who provided training to their PAs in order for them to appropriately assist her to care for her child.
  • Open communication – although it can be extremely difficult to criticise your PA, it is very important that you maintain open communication and explain to them that it is through no fault of their own but you prefer to have things done in a certain way. Instances such as these should be dealt with as soon as possible in order for things not to be built up. Open communication is needed in both ways so that if your PA is unhappy about something, they too have the opportunity to work it out with you.
  • Timesheets – I complete timesheets for each of my PAs at the end of the day in order to keep track of the hours worked.
  • Pay – ensure that your PA knows how their pay works and when they will get paid. I have outlined this in my Pas’ contracts and I have an accountant who manages the payroll.
  • Have fun – once you both know what the boundaries are, it is still very important that you are able to have fun with each other. At the end of the day, your PA might be involved with very intimate aspects of your life and therefore like any relationship, it is important that your personalities match. I often say to people that I could train anybody to do the job, however if we don’t get along then it will never ever work.

These are the basic things that I have learnt, let me know if you have any other advice. Your personal budget/direct payments team should be able to help you with example job descriptions and contracts etc. If they don’t, ask them to signpost you to avenues which may be able to help. If you are still struggling, then feel free to contact me and I can see if I can be of assistance.

I hope this has helped and never be afraid to be bold in terms of what you need. Your priorities must always come first.

Until next time,


By Rupy Kaur

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