Personal Assistants: Crafting a Policy Everybody's Happy With
Personal Assistants: Crafting a Policy Everybody's Happy With
Personal assistants have become the rage, not only with top salespeople who generate more business than they can personally handle but also with mid-level salespeople who are guarding against burnout or just want to balance their personal and professional lives.
If you don't accommodate personal assistants, it could cost you some very productive salespeople. Then again, if you do, you must consider the liabilities in terms of supervision requirements (under license law), compensation, taxes, and workers' compensation. Close to 10 percent of our company's 430 salespeople use personal assistants.
The Search for Solutions
We wanted to make sure we protected ourselves from liability and maintained our personal assistants' productivity. We began our quest by asking other brokers, Who has control over the assistants? How are they paid? Has one ever been injured on the job? What we found was a handful of unofficial ways that companies handled personal assistants.
Our management team had several meetings to discuss personal assistants and quickly concluded that we had to establish a company policy for both licensed and unlicensed assistants because both were prevalent in our company.
With Unlicensed Assistants, We . . .
In deciding the duties of an unlicensed personal assistant, we looked to our own state's real estate manual and made sure our policies reflected those guidelines. The policy states that unlicensed assistants are limited to carrying out secretar-ial functions, such as answering phones and handling correspondence for salespeople.
They can work on the completion of a pending sales file to the extent of arranging for repairs, checking on the progress of financing, scheduling appointments for showings, installing signs and lockboxes (our lockboxes don't require an MLS key to install), and helping with advertising copy for broker review.
Unlicensed personal assistants are prohibited from engaging in "professional real estate activity" as defined in our state license statutes.
This includes showing property, holding open houses, negotiating on any transaction, submitting any advertising or marketing materials without broker review, and answering consumers' questions during a property call other than what's covered in an ad.
The question of compensation is clearly highlighted in our state regulations, and we're aware of the employer/employee traps as they affect workers' compensation, taxes, and our wage and hour laws. In Oregon we fought hard for the independent contractor exemption and don't want it hampered in any way.
Unlicensed assistants can't receive a portion of the salesperson's commission and are advised on the applicable taxes to account for. They're advised to seek professional assistance in this area through their accountant or legal adviser.
Principal licensees (salespeople) are allowed to establish an employer/employee relationship or an independent contractor relationship (with a personal assistant), as long as they follow the proper guidelines and are liable for them. They're also in charge of supervision and control of the assistant. Use of the company's property or equipment is subject to the company's approval in each instance.
These basic policies are encompassed in a formal addendum to the independent contractors agreement that's signed by the principal salesperson. A separate acknowledgment and agreement that sets out these policies and parameters is signed by the personal assistant.
With Licensed Assistants, We . . .
In establishing the policy on licensed personal assistants, we found a more familiar territory with the caveat that the licensed assistant is under the control of both the principal salesperson and the broker. We indicated that while the personal assistant was under the control and supervision of the principal salesperson, all licensable activity is performed as a salesperson of the company and is liable as such.
On compensation, we indicated that the personal assistant could be paid only through a percentage of the salesperson's transactions and that no other form of payment from the company or salesperson was allowed.
This was a difficult area to deal with because salespeople generally want to pay their licensed assistants a salary for their "unlicensed" activity and a portion of their commission for their "licensed" activity. This sounds practical but brings into question the responsibilities and compliance of employment relationships and, in Oregon, our license law.
Oregon law requires all compensation for "professional real estate activity" as defined in our statutes to be paid only through the broker. Thus, there are accountability concerns about when a licensed personal assistant is performing which duty at which time.
Some salespeople in our area do employ their personal assistants for specific hours through a placement service. The personal assistants are to perform only specific clerical tasks during those hours and then are paid through the brokerage for their other, licensable (real estate) activity. Our management team decided on a more clearly defined policy in this area.
The licensed personal assistants can work for more than one salesperson and are required to sign an independent contractor agreement with the company as well as the licensed sales assistant addendum, which clearly names the principal salesperson. The principal salesperson also signs an addendum to his or her independent contractor agreement that outlines the policies on both licensed and unlicensed personal assistants and indicates that he or she is operating under the policies.
The Problems We Still Face
The road isn't all paved with organization and consenting parties. Some of our salespeople got defensive about what was perceived as management's "interference" for liability's sake. As with any sensitive policy, the reasoning and benefits for each person have to be thoroughly discussed individually.
We also continue to battle the concern over space allocations for personal assistants and haven't found the perfect solution yet. Yes, we have salespeople with multiple assistants who are taking up multiple space. In those cases, the production and salesperson warrant the inconvenience. But we won't always have this luxury, and that issue is our next hurdle.
The company is also looking for ways to reduce the need for personal assistants, including the use of technology. Getting more experienced salespeople trained to use technology in their business is a continuing challenge, but will help.
This article first appeared in the publication Management Issues & Trends under the title "Personal Assistant Policies That Work" and was adapted with permission of the Copyright Proprietor, the Real Estate Brokerage Managers Council.
Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The REALTOR® Magazine archive is a collection of content previously published on RealtorMag.REALTOR.org. The archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.