After nearly two years of being the employer and client of my support staff, the lessons I’ve learned along the way were ones that I was completely unprepared for, and other disabled people may be too.
Support for disabled people to learn about how to be good employers is going be a critical aspect of the new system which prototypes in the MidCentral beginning this October. Some aspects of that new system have already been practiced in the Waikato under the Enabling Good Lives demonstration, and I can say that for myself personally, I would have benefited greatly from some hands-on training prior to becoming an employer of my support staff.
Not that people actually have to take on this role if they don’t want to, they will have a choice about that, and I suspect that many will leave the direct managerial responsibilities to a third party. In a lot of cases, that may be a wise decision because being the direct employer does come with a lot of time requirements, and disabled people who choose to go into the new system actually want to spend more time focusing on other things.
There will be options to have a provider manage all the day-to-day HR requirements, including payroll and the hiring/firing aspect. You can also choose to have something of a hybrid of both, where you or your family can manage the money side of things and just pay a monthly invoice to the provider.
Like others in the Waikato during the EGL demonstration, I was in the unique position to have experienced the realities of self-managing using both of these approaches.
When I first transitioned to living independently, I hosted my funding in a bank account but chose to have a provider manage payroll, rosters, and the hiring of new staff. Six months after doing things that way, I transitioned away from a provider and took on the direct employment of staff, which included drawing up contracts, negotiating pay rates, organising rosters, and doing payroll every fortnight.
Each has its own pros and cons, and it will come down to the personal preference of disabled people and families based on what is important to them. Many don’t want the hassle of taking on the responsibilities of being an employer, they just want to be in control of where and when the supports are delivered.
But at what cost?
When I was using a provider, I found that it wasn’t always as simple as saying I wanted X, Y, and Z on this particular week. When you couple that with the costs that providers will charge for their own overheads, often it can end up being slightly more expensive per fortnight than it would if people took care of all the management themselves.
The difference wasn’t major but it was enough for me to justify making the leap to being an employer.
But the struggle with that is learning about the responsibilities that being an employer presents, including the negotiation aspect and the complexities of employment law. In my case, I didn’t feel adequately supported to make that transition but it was one I needed to make nonetheless due to the need to remove the impacts on the budget that the overheads of the providers were having.
Part of the issue, as always, is ensuring that disabled people and families are informed about what services are out there. For example, in the Waikato there is a company called FuturesNZ that can help with employment networking and solutions. I heard about them through my Connector/Tuhono, and there are also plenty of resources online that can help with building employment contracts.
Disabled people who choose to be employers must be equipped with everything they need to know before making the transition into what is a position that comes with some serious legal ramifications if it goes wrong. Because when it does go wrong, and I know this from personal experience, the legal costs will come out of your support budget, therefore having the potential to impact directly affecting your ability to pay your support workers.
This is where things like capability funding for groups of disabled people and families become important, and it’s great that this will be available in the MidCentral during the prototype. It would be great to see a series of workshops that provide that hands-on employer training and advice for disabled people and families who choose to take the leading role in the day-to-day support.
The Realities Of Managing My Own Disability Support
Apart from the gigantic learning curve, my experience being directly responsible for the employment and management of my support staff has been a rewarding experience.
The important thing to remember is that the people who support you are just that, people, and they’ll all bring different skill sets to the table. They’ll have days where they exceed your expectations and days where they may not meet them, and how you manage all the different factors of the employment situation is ultra important because all these factors contribute towards what can be an incredibly vibrant or terribly toxic working relationship. Another big lesson I’ve learned is about the importance of being a good communicator and having the ability to have those tough conversations when required.