Why you should let your VA send a substitute to cover holidays

It’s the holiday season again and your VA is probably trying to arrange a substitute to cover school holiday cover and trips to the seaside. Some are even going on package holidays abroad.

How do you feel about your VA arranging a substitute?

Some clients get very nervous about this. Your first instinct may be to say “No – I hired you and it is you and only you I want”. You may have all sorts of legitimate concerns about how a substitute could handle the work, data security and client confidentiality.

Before you make that decision, there are some things you really ought to consider:

Not permitting substitutes has consequences

If your VA is not allowed to send a suitably qualified substitute then you are treating them as a worker or an employee.

Substitutes, sole traders and tax

If your VA is not running a company this can mean you run the risk of HMRC deciding they should be on PAYE (with all the back tax penalties that can involve) or deciding that your VA is a worker entitled to statutory holidays (and other rights). This can result in you being fined for non-payment/late payment of tax.

If you think this can’t happen then you need to check out what has happened to Hermes, Deliveroo and Pimlico Plumbers (along with many others) who controlled their freelancers in a way it made them workers and/or employees.

The right to send suitably qualified substitutes is one of the tests that employment tribunals and HRMC use to work out who is a genuinely self-employed business owner compared to ‘workers’ (who accrue a whole set of rights of their own) or employees. If you never permit this you may run into serious trouble with tax over the long haul.

Substitutes and IR35

If your VA has a company that does not get you out of trouble. The IR35 rules can mean you ought to be deducting money under IR35 if your relationship is one of ‘disguised employment’.

Whilst sending a substitute is not the only test, it is a significant one and you should only refuse this proposal if there are other concerns.

GDPR and substitutes

If your VA has access to confidential information – particular client information or data that identifies living individuals, you should already be properly contracted with them for data security in line with GDPR. You will also need to have given them written instructions on how to process this data. This may be a separate Data Processing Agreement or part of your contracting and booking process.

You should check if your VA has made a similar provision with their substitute by having a proper and secure contract with them and passing on your written instructions to their substitute.

Both your VA and their substitute should have a functioning knowledge of GDPR and how to apply it (and you should too!).

Create new logins for substitutes

Create new individual logins for your VA substitute so you can make sure you can see clearly what they are accessing and doing. Login sharing makes tracking really difficult and should only be done when there is really no alternative. It also makes multi-factor authentication pretty tricky and you don’t want to be turning that off.

It can be a false economy to not want to pay for an additional log in – particularly for programmes that let you alter your subscription monthly.

There are a few that charge your headcount annually which may leave you with very little choice.

Who is paying the substitute

Normally you would pay your VA and they would pay their substitute. You might want to check who is paying who but the standard setup is of the primary VA paying the substitute is what you can expect.

If you pay the substitute directly or provide one yourself, you will not be ticking the ‘substitution box’ when it comes to proving that your VA is not your worker or employee. Avoid this if you can.

What is a suitably qualified substitute?

Your VA will present you with one or more substitutes. It is quite common to find one for one element of the role and another substitute for another. Sometimes if you are not buying a large number of weekly hours, one substitute will be able to manage all your tasks.

Your substitute VA will need to be briefed by your regular VA on exactly how you like things to work. This will be something the VA takes the time to do out of their own time and usually at their own expense. This is part of running their VA business after all.

The substitute should have the appropriate skill set to handle your work. For many tasks, these are ‘mechanical’ or ‘technical’ skills. Your VA should make sure their substitutes have those skills. Experienced VAs will also produce a file of ‘how you like things’. You can go through it with them. It will cover things like whether you prefer a formal or informal style, what level of client contact is needed and so on.

Should you be worried?

You should always be careful about who is given access to your company information and who has contact with your clients.

But, if you are working on the basis that only ‘your’ VA can do all the tasks you need, then you really are on the wrong page when it comes to how the VA industry works. It is great that you value and trust your VA.

But your VA is in business too – just like you. If you want your VA to operate in a professional and resilient way then having substitutes to step into the breach – whether for holidays, sickness, or other reasons – is part of that professional package.

Your VA should be carrying professional indemnity insurance and if you ask them to make sure the associate carries their own (or adds them to their own policy) you have additional peace of mind that if something does go wrong, both your VA and you are covered.

Drop-ins for supervision

Most VAs will organise a drop-in supervision call with their substitutes (yes even when on holiday) to make sure everything is running smoothly. They are a dedicated group of people. You can ask when this is scheduled to be and let your VA know any concerns you may have that can’t wait till their return.

Rest helps deliver customer service

Having a break enables your VA to recharge batteries and deliver even better service when they get back. So if you want to be known as a great client (and who wouldn’t) don’t contact your VA during their vacation time unless it is really is life-threatening or business threateningly urgent. Contact the substitute. They will always be able to pass things back to your VA if it really is that bad.

And while you’re at it, why not plan your own vacation? We all need time away from our desks and phones.

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