All of us at YEU are concerned for the privacy of YG employees and the protection of their personal & private medical history.
Sometimes workers must provide their employer with medical information to access a workplace accommodation or receive benefits. The right to privacy is quasi-constitutional, meaning it can’t be set aside or trumped by other policies or rules, so any exceptions to that right must serve a legitimate purpose. Any information shared has to be handled with extreme caution. An employee’s medical condition must have a genuine impact on their work, affecting attendance or creating performance issues. Without a significant impact, the employer does not have a right to medical information- period.
Employees seeking a medical accommodation are obliged to provide some information to the employer; we don’t dispute that. The information must be limited to prognosis and limitations or restrictions that would affect your ability to perform your job. Often though, there is uncertainty about what the employer is entitled to, and how they should be using and protecting this information. Your diagnosis is your business, not your employer’s. Requests for information or history beyond what is genuinely needed are invasive; employees can never be sure who will see their private information once it has been provided.
We know of many instances where the Yukon government has collected extensive medical information on employees, far beyond what is required to access benefits or develop an accommodation plan. In several cases, information about other family members has been collected and shared – clearly without their knowledge or consent. Over time, these reports have been copied, e-mailed and viewed by many people in various government departments as well as other service providers.
This should never be allowed to happen; it can be very distressing for the workers involved, and is a significant concern for the union. Many employees do not ask for the union’s help at the beginning of the accommodation process, and end up providing a lot of unnecessary and deeply personal information to their employer.
An employee should share medical information only when absolutely necessary, and only the information absolutely required to reach an accommodation. Any general requests for medical records should be refused. The employee should also refuse to authorize any employer representative to speak with their doctor directly. A reasonable alternative is to have the employer write their questions out so that the employee can discuss it with their doctor and consent to specific disclosure.
YEU has asked the Privacy Commissioner to examine Government of Yukon’s processes around collecting, using, sharing and retaining medical information related to the disability management and accommodation process. In the meantime, we can help employees navigate the inquiry and accommodation processes and support employees in protecting their privacy.
Employees should contact YEU before agreeing to share any medical information. Call 667-2331
Jim Regimbal chaired the Yukon Employees’ Union’s recent Human Rights panel discussions of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. As Dawson City’s Fire Chief, President of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs, and Yukon’s Director on the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, he has advocated for improved services to first responders suffering from PTSI and has been instrumental in bringing the issue into focus in Yukon. He provided powerful empathy and insight earned from his many years on the job.
The first step is acknowledging and accepting that, whatever name it’s given, Post-Traumatic Stress Injury is real and that trauma significant enough to cause injury can’t easily be quantified. The science supports this, with mountains of evidence explaining the changes to brain structure caused by exposure to trauma. We can’t choose not to “believe in PTSI” any more than we can choose not to believe in climate change. The evidence is clear and the science is irrefutable.
PTSI can be the result of a sudden, dramatic incident but it is just as likely to develop invisibly over many years. Its onset can come without warning, sometimes after a seemingly benign event. Whitehorse Psychologist Nicole Bringsli used a water glass analogy; a glass can hold only so much liquid. All it takes is one too many ordinary, inconsequential drops of water and the glass spills over. We can witness and contain only so much pain and trauma before we reach our capacity to cope and, like the water glass, we risk spilling over.
What constitutes trauma? There’s no easy answer. Trauma that affects one individual very profoundly can sometimes be borne by another, or can be overcome with access to the right kind of support at the right time. Bringsli reminded us that each individual brings their own history and sensibilities to their work, and each person responds differently to similar circumstances.
What occupations or events are likely to lead to psychological injury? Combat veterans, first responders like firefighters, police officers, EMS providers, dispatchers and corrections officers witness things they can’t ever forget, scenes and calls that will affect them forever. A career of running into burning buildings, delivering terrible news or fighting to save lives takes an enormous toll on the heart and psyche. There are many lines of work that put people at risk, and it’s important to recognize the danger so we can provide appropriate resources to all those who need them.
Many caring professions are occupied predominantly by women, and many struggle silently with the emotional impacts of that difficult work. Though rarely labelled PTSI, the ongoing emotional trauma has the same impact on quality of life and mental health. It’s time to consider how broadly affected both men and women are by their work, and how many professions are high risk for psychological injury.
Social workers face heartbreaking situations in the line of duty. Removing children from dangerous homes, denying parental access and leaving vulnerable children in foster situations takes a terrible toll. Sheena Larose, a former Child Protective Services worker from Ontario recently wrote “Unless you are in the trenches, people don’t understand that child protection work can be among the most intensive, heart-wrenching and volatile work one could ever encounter.”
Social workers counsel child abuse victims and must bear witness for their frightened and confused young clients. When we talk about social workers’ emotional health, we often say they have “burned out”… we don’t consider PTSI as a likely outcome. Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue – whatever we call it, the results can be life altering and career limiting.
Front line workers in shelters for domestic violence victims face recurring trauma – imagine the daily challenge of maintaining a healthy outlook when you’re immersed in the pain of others. How hard must it be to turn a woman away when your facility has no space, knowing she and her children have no choice but to return to a dangerous home? These workers must also remain anonymous to protect the security of those they help, and so they often have no choice but to struggle in silence, without recognition or support.
Prevention is more valuable than cure; our panel members spoke again and again of the urgent need for effective critical incident de-briefing practices, currently almost non-existent in Yukon. They talked of the need for trained peer support, for non-judgemental listening and for access to counselling services. Other jurisdictions have comprehensive supports we haven’t even begun to consider here in the Territory.
When our panel was asked for a wish list to help combat Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, there was consensus on the need for critical incident debriefing, for pro-active discussion and peer support. More funding is needed to ensure local mental health service providers are resourced to provide care when it’s needed. Employers must prioritize worker safety and be as diligent in protecting the minds and spirit of their employees as they are about their physical well-being.
Jeannie Dendys, Yukon’s new Minister responsible for the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health & Safety Board offered her commitment to supporting PTSI prevention & treatment. YWCHSB Chair Kurt Dieckmann stressed the role of the employer and the value of prevention. It’s important to make sure protections are built into work environments likely to experience critical stress and trauma. Normalizing help-seeking behaviour will go far, he says, to de-stigmatizing PTSI and making work safer.
How we respond to our injured colleagues, neighbours and family members, is an indicator of how likely they are to heal. Forcing sufferers to convince us of their injury, prove its cause and defend their need for help adds insult to injury and creates barriers sometimes too great to overcome. During the recent Territorial election campaign, new Premier Sandy Silver promised to amend the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Act to include presumptive provisions for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD/PTSI) in first responders. That commitment was echoed by Minister Dendys at our event. At YEU we believe presumptive provisions must cover first responders, but that other high risk worker groups must also be included if the system is to protect those at greatest risk of harm.
Our community is compassionate; we are quick to help families in need. We support our sick, injured neighbours when there’s a fire, a death or catastrophic illness. That empathy must extend to the helpers, not just to the victims.
*New language has been added to the Collective Agreement between YEU/PSAC and the Government of Yukon. Article 19 Severance provides for voluntary early pay-out of severance pay under certain conditions.
It is important to remember this new provision is voluntary only – there is NO requirement to request an early payout of your severance. All other forms of severance such as the provision for layoff remain intact and are unchanged.
Severance is like a deferred long term savings plan. For every year you work you will have one week of pay set aside for when you retire. For employees who plan to work until they retire, the value of severance is 1 week of pay for each year of service, which is like having an additional 1.9% that is set aside annually for you by the employer.
The monetary “value” of severance varies considerably from person to person depending on years of service, your career plan, and the conditions under which you might expect to take severance pay.
Severance is intended to bridge your time between when you retire and when you get your first pension cheque or provide additional pay in the event you are laid off. There are occasions where several months elapse between the date of retirement and receipt of the first pension payment.
How will the new Voluntary Severance Pay-Out article work?
If you voluntarily take an early payout of your severance, the following applies:
- You can only apply for it when you have at least 5 years of service
- You can only take it in multiples of 5 year blocks
- Early payout of severance means you will only be paid 50% of your regular entitlement. Rather than 1 week’s pay for each year worked, you will receive 1 week’s pay for each 2 years of service
- Severance will be paid out at your current substantive rate of pay
- There may be additional tax implications
If you voluntarily take an early payout of your severance and you are still employed, there may be additional tax payable. Any additional taxes will be your responsibility and will vary from person to person depending on your personal financial situation.
Another important factor to consider is you more than likely will be at a higher pay level when you retire. This means severance will be paid out at a higher level when you retire.
*If you cash out early, you will continue to accrue severance, but like a savings account, once you withdraw severance, it is gone. It can’t be replaced or replenished over time.
*We recommend you do not access this provision unless you absolutely have to.
*For reference, the contract language is below
19.10 Severance Voluntary Pay-Out
A regular employee with at least five (5) years of continuous service may elect to have all or a portion of their accrued severance paid out prior to resignation or retirement, subject to the following conditions:
a) Pay-out must be requested in five-year increments (e.g. 5 years, 10 years, etc.)
b) An employee may request a voluntary severance pay-out each time the employee accrues another five year increment of severance.
c) Request for pay-out must be made by September 30 each year.
d) Voluntary severance will be paid on the pay day falling immediately after November 1.
e) An eligible employee is entitled to be paid by the employer severance pay equal to the product obtained by multiplying the employee’s weekly rate of pay by 1/2 by the number of full-time equivalent completed continuous years of service requested for pay-out to a maximum of 28 weeks.
f) The number of years of voluntary severance paid out will be subtracted from remaining accrued balance of severance for the purposes of Article 19.
g) An employee’s future earning and accrual of severance shall remain unaffected.
The fact finding meeting is over; you may never hear about the issue again, or the employer notifies you that they have come to a conclusion and you’re called for a follow up meeting.
During the meeting your supervisor reads out loud and presents a letter of expectation (LOE); welcome to the performance management stream and the right of the employer to reaffirm the roles, responsibilities and accountability of your position within public service in Yukon.
Firstly, a letter of expectation is not discipline. While it may feel like discipline (and trust me I know this feeling, having been through this process), it is not intended to be, nor is it a disciplinary action.
A properly formatted letter of expectation should clearly outline the issues the employer has identified that need to be rectified, the changes they would like to see, the timeline for this change and the support and resources for assisting with process.
What happens after I receive this letter?
This is a shared responsibility; you as a public servant have been advised of your employment expectations and you should seek to meet the mark. It will feel like there is extra scrutiny on you and this is natural and actually accurate, but not in the “I’m gonna get you” way.
After an LOE is delivered the employer is watching you, not to note your failure but to ensure your success. It is incumbent on the employer to assist you in meeting the requirements of your position and the expectations that have been outlined.
YTG (the employer) needs to provide access to support and resources to ensure you are successful. Bear in mind you are a big part of this success and it is incumbent on you to meet the requirements of your job contract with YTG. As the cliché goes it takes two to tango and for the most part you are the lead in the dance.
How long does the LOE stay in my file?
As letters of expectation are not discipline they are not part of your file. When it comes to your “file” you only have one and this is held at the Public Service Commission (you can make an appointment to see your file with PSC if you would like to review your public service employment file).
Your LOE will be held by your supervisor and will not be in your “file” but will be kept for reference for the timeline provided in the letter. An LOE will be deemed complete at your next PPP (Personal Performance Plan) provided the issues have been resolved and have not continued. Now, if the behavior in the letter continues, this can open up the disciplinary stream (which I will cover in another post). But we all know that this won’t be an issue……..right?
A few other details….
Letters of expectation do not always come from fact finding meetings. Employment behaviors can be noted and dealt with outside of fact finding meetings and delivered at the discretion of the employer.
- Union representation is not required at the presentation of an LOE as they are not disciplinary, however, it is recommended by YTG that if it will be of benefit to the employee YEU representation can be in attendance.
- As always, if there are questions or concerns call the YEU office at 667 2331 or call me directly at 334 4331, remembering there is a timeline for issues of approximately 20 days, so call early and get the answers.
Yours in solidarity,
President, YEU Local Y010
The increased vision care benefit negotiated for YG members in the recently ratified contract is not yet in effect. The union’s team reached consensus with the employer’s team on an increase to the benefit, HOWEVER it cannot come into effect unless and until it is authorized by the Yukon Government’s Minister of Finance.
LETTER OF UNDERSTANDING “X”
CHANGES TO THE INSURED BENEFITS PLAN
The parties recognize that the employee group insurance benefits plan (the “plan”) design is governed by a contract which covers all Government of Yukon employee groups under specified terms and conditions and that the process for recommending any changes to the plan is governed by the Joint Management Committee (JMC) pursuant to the Public Service Group Insurance Benefit Plan Act.
The parties recognize that any proposed changes to the plan made pursuant to the JMC process will be in the form of recommendations, subject to the authority and final decision of the Minister of Finance.
- The parties agree that a recommendation be made to the JMC to raise the vision care maximum to $300 every two years, effective date of renewal.
What does that mean?
The approval will be sought by the JMC at the October 2016 meeting, and a decision returned by the Minister of Finance.
This is the first time we have sought such a change under provider Great West Life, we can tell you that changes can only occur to the plan at the yearly renewal date. That means no change will take place until April 2017. It is still tentative; although these recommendations from the JMC have never been denied in the past, it will not be official or in force until it is signed off by the Minister.
What should you do?
If you need new glasses & reimbursement now, submit your receipt in the normal way for repayment of the previously authorized amount, $200. If you can wait for reimbursement, you can also choose to hold off submitting receipts until after the change takes effect in April of 2017.
YEU will update you once we have more information to share.