Case Study: Work adjustments – Constituency office of Tadeusz Woźniak MP, Poland
Company / organisation name
Constituency office of Tadeusz Woźniak, MP
Working conditions tailored to the needs of a working carer
About the company / organisation
Tadeusz Woźniak, a Member of Parliament (MP) associated with the political party Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), runs a constituency office in three towns: Kutno (the main office), Krośniewice and Łowicz. These offices mostly deal with facilitating communication between voters and their representative in parliament. They take care of organisational matters and also provide free legal advice to the local community.
At present, the MP employs five individuals, including a woman who cares for her husband who has severe disabilities and is confined to bed. The initiative described here relates to the experience of this employee.
The purpose of the initiative was to offer this employee working conditions that responded to her needs as a working carer, insofar as is possible. This involved a working location close to her home, in case of an emergency. The beneficiary of this solution has organised the care arrangement for her husband very well; care-giving is shared with other members of the family. Nevertheless, in some cases she needs to attend to her husband at short notice, for example, when the assistance of two individuals is required. This is why it is essential for her to be able to leave the workplace in case of need. In urgent cases, she can also modify her working hours, the time she starts and finishes work. This is done in agreement with her co-workers and employer, as long as the service hours of the office remain unaffected.
In this employee’s previous job, she was also enabled to work close to home. However, unlike her present position, she did not have a regular contract of employment; she had no guarantee of a regular income or other employee rights, and the work often required her to travel frequently, sometimes over long distances.
This current working arrangement is based on the needs of one specific person. However, working conditions in general at the MP’s constituency offices are conducive to reconciling work with private and family life for all of his employees.
Mr Woźniak, MP, initiated and developed this working scheme himself. The arrangements for leave in an emergency situation are of an informal nature. They are not recorded in any formal procedures document, as this would not be appropriate for such a small organisation.
Rationale and background of the initiative
Prior to her existing post, this working carer was unable to find regular employment near her home, a critical factor in light of her husband’s disability. This was because of her need for a flexible working arrangement, due to her care responsibilities, and because of the difficult labour market situation in the area. Following an interview, the MP decided to hire her on an internship contract basis, in collaboration with the district employment office. At the same time, he established the special working conditions that address her needs as a working carer. The concrete objective was to offer a tailored work arrangement that met her specific requirements.
The employer is both an MP and chair of the Parliamentary Committee for Catholic Social Education (Zespół na Rzecz Katolickiej Nauki Społecznej). He became aware of the specific needs of working carers while seeking new recruits for his own office. This has contributed to his understanding of the importance of giving assistance to workers experiencing difficult family situations.
Results and assessment
The proposed solution is used by a single employee working as an assistant to the MP. The care for her family member who needs this support is very well organised. As a result, she does not very often avail of the possibility of leaving her office in the case of an emergency. However, as she stated herself, knowing that such an option exists is essential in order for her to be in paid work.
No formal evaluation of the initiative has been carried out. However, both the employer and the employee report positive effects. The MP states he is satisfied because the arrangement allows him to employ a loyal and committed employee. He also appreciates the efforts taken by his employee to reconcile her various responsibilities as well as possible.
In addition, the MP benefits by gaining direct knowledge through employing a working carer. He also benefits from his employee’s contacts with associations representing the interests of people with disability. This direct connection with these communities has enabled him to become more effectively involved in developing amendments to acts of law concerning social welfare. It has also assisted him in intervening in cases concerning individuals with disabilities and their families.
These positive experiences, combined with the minimum nature of the required organisational changes, led the MP to hire this employee. On the completion of her internship, she was given a full-time contract. The employee feels that being in paid employment is of major importance to her quality of life. The nature of her work, as an MP’s assistant, involves coming into contact with many people, from persons in high-level government positions to members of the local community. The job requires a diverse range of skills and gives her a sense of doing something that is truly valued. She can frequently provide targeted support to individuals. This means that the job brings her a lot of career-related satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment. At the same time, she greatly appreciates her job as a diversion from the everyday challenges associated with being the main carer of a very close family member.
In addition of course, the employee benefits from the income generated by regular employment, as well as from access to social security. Usually, Polish families with a member in need of care face a very difficult financial situation. It is difficult to overstate the value of enabling as many members of such families to carry out paid work.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
One of the main conclusions that can be drawn is the value of offering employees the simple option of leaving the workplace in case of an emergency. This goes a long way towards reducing the difficulties faced by a working carer when seeking employment. In some cases, it may even be a required condition for taking up employment. It may even emerge, as in the case described here, that the employee does not make use of that option very frequently. They may only use it on rare occasions, when required, in which case the employer faces minimal practical difficulties. That is why it is certainly worthwhile to promote solutions of this type among other employers.
Another lesson is that a working carer who needs to be able to leave work on short notice requires a workplace that is close to their home. This is necessary in order to avoid time being spent on commuting. As the MP points out, local government and public administration units may play a critical role here. These institutions, as representatives of the state, should be particularly sensitised to the needs of carers in local communities. They should take efforts to meet those needs in their role as employers. Applicable labour law includes a range of provisions, which should make it easier for carers to combine paid work with their private responsibilities. In practice, however, it appears that employers’ attitudes pose a great barrier to the take-up of such provisions. As long as opportunities to enforce solutions and to exert pressure on private sector employers remain limited, the state should promote such behaviour within its own organisation.
In addition, the MP feels that organisations representing people with disabilities and their families are the most effective players in changing social attitudes and legislation on this issue. This is his opinion, both as an employer and a Member of Parliament. They are most aware of the changes that are needed and which ones will bring the best results. Moreover, he argues that these organisations ought to play the part of initiators and consultants regarding any legislative changes relevant to working carers.
According to this employer, current legislation in Poland regarding working carers is sufficiently developed to enable employers to provide effective support to them. This support could be organisational or financial. In order to achieve real improvements for working carers in practice, the most important step appears to be to raise awareness among the wider public, particularly among employers.
Case study authors:
- Katarzyna Świeżawska-Ambroziak
- Dominika Stelmachowicz-Pawyza.
- Tadeusz Woźniak, Deputy to the Sejm of the Republic of Poland, conducted on 9 December 2010.