The Letter of Expectation: What Does it Mean?

Rob-Jones-Y010-President-2016

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,

Rob Jones

rob jones

President, YEU Local Y010

 

 

Bad Decisions at YG

cropped Steve in black & whiteAre Yukon Government’s Managers and Deputy Ministers intentionally making bad decisions? Maybe it’s a lack of understanding or an information vacuum that makes for face-palm results on critical cases? Either way it frustrates the hell out of me.  It’s YOU, the members we represent, who suffer from some very bad decisions at every level of the grievance process.

I attend many complex representation meetings including policy grievances, 3rd level grievances and arbitration hearings.  This isn’t standard for an elected official of YEU but  I want to observe the process. Poorly considered decisions result in grievances being referred to PSAC for arbitration, lengthening the process & leaving workers in limbo for years.

The cases that go this route include dismissals, lengthy suspensions, human rights complaints and issues of accommodation. The process can drag on, and the uncertainty impacts an individual’s physical and mental well-being & livelihood.

The cases don’t start out terribly complicated, so what happens?  To answer that, we need to look at the first step in a grievance process. This varies by employer but typically starts with an immediate supervisor.  Most of these individuals aren’t trained to solve complex human resource problems – they are intelligent and well-meaning people – but they’re set up for failure by their employer. They are not given the freedom or the tools they need to be successful.

We see good people promoted into supervisory positions because they know the work; they have the knowledge to perform the job but aren’t given labour relations training. It’s not just the supervisors who lack training either – the same is true for all levels of decision makers – Human Resource Advisors, Directors, CEOs and Deputy Ministers.

Accommodating a physical injury is straight forward – an injured worker is usually off work for a short period of time. Upon a return to work, limitations may include how much weight can be lifted or how long the worker may spend at a dedicated task.  Mental health issues, invisible disabilities or addictions also require accommodation, the requirement is entrenched in law.  This is where we encounter a minefield of miscommunication and a lack of understanding.

Supervisors need proper training to have difficult conversations with workers. Without the right skills, sensitive personal information that might inform a supervisor’s decisions can be misunderstood, inappropriately shared or lost in translation.
An attempt at resolution can quickly turn into a performance management issue & rather than achieving an accommodation, struggling workers are disciplined.

By the time someone figures out what needs to be done, all positions are firmly entrenched and the opportunity to problem solve is long past. Few directors, Deputy Ministers or CEOs are willing to rule against those below them; it reflects badly on the organization and frankly, most of the higher ups haven’t received the training needed to know better.

After a few agonizing rounds of bad decisions, a case may end up referred to arbitration, and the people with the knowledge to find a resolution get involved at last. That sounds like a good & positive thing, doesn’t it?  Sadly, very few settlements are actually awarded by an arbitrator’s decision.

Most employers offer to settle prior to the arbitration hearing, or during the proceedings. Why? If an arbitrator makes a decision in favour of the worker, it is precedent setting and becomes part of the public record. A settlement acts as a gag order – instead of public accountability, the matter disappears.

By the time a case reaches this point, the worker involved is often truly suffering either mentally or financially.  While it would be great to stand on principal and hold out for a favorable decision and a culture change, it’s rarely feasible or recommended. Enough is enough and peace of mind comes first.

YEU won’t recommend a member continue a struggle just to achieve a ruling.  Settlement offers are usually enticing enough and the grievor weary enough that they accept the settlement offer and try to rebuild their lives.  Of course, without a binding decision, the employer is free to continue the practices that initiated the grievance process in the first place.

It’s true that not every employee is a model worker.  Management has the right to manage and we respect that right when the employer operates in good faith.  The union is willing to have tough conversations when members seek representation; that’s part of our job and reflects our obligation to the membership at large.

Some supervisors tell us they feel inadequately trained in labour relations and human resources.  If the employer won’t fulfill their obligation, we’ll be glad to step up to help you get what you need.

Congratulations to employers who build strong teams through appropriate training and empowering policies. To the rest of you (and you know who you are) please put aside your pre-conceived notions, prejudices, superiority complexes and whatever else motivates you. Treat Yukoners – our members, with the dignity and respect they deserve.

The YG Fact-Finding Meeting; What to Expect

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It’s another day at work, everything seems to be going well and it’s shaping up to be a good day.  Then it happens; you receive a request to attend a meeting the following day and your supervisor advises that you are entitled to bring a union representative to the meeting!

What has happened? Why won’t they tell me what the meeting is about? What are the specifics? Aside from being frustrated that you can’t have these questions answered, being called to a meeting relatively blind is also incredibly stressful.

You have been called to a fact finding meeting.

Fact finding meetings are a very common and normal occurrence in Yukon Government workplaces.  When a supervisor or manager receives a complaint or incident report involving a staff member, they are required to investigate – this means they need to talk to you and get your version of the incident or event. If you have been asked to such a meeting, you must attend.

The fact finding meeting is based on the premise that there has been a problematic event or incident of some kind. The employer needs to ask questions to determine what happened. You might not be directly involved; you may have witnessed the incident or have information that may help to make the situation clear.

These sessions are not meant to be punitive, but should offer space for an open and honest dialogue on the event being discussed. These conversations can feel incredibly stressful for the employee and may feel like a cross examination, but that is not the intent. Your union representative will be there with you to protect your rights.

Why do I need a union representative?  It is incumbent on the employer to advise an employee of the need for representation if there’s any chance of discipline down the road.  Discipline is not always involved, but the employer cannot deny a member representation then dole out discipline after the fact; this goes against the principles of the Collective Agreement as well as the principles of natural justice.

Why won’t they answer my questions about the event or incident before the meeting?  Well, this is twofold; while they may state “we are going to be discussing event ABC” they cannot discuss the actual event outside the meeting. Firstly the employer would like to see unchecked, honest reactions to the questions posed.  Secondly if the employer engages in this conversation it may be construed as part of the fact finding session when the employee has not yet had an opportunity to secure union representation.

These meetings are usually less than an hour long, depending on the events and issues at hand.  During these sessions the employee, the employer or the union representative can ask for a break to have discussions or sidebar chats.  These meeting should be, and for the most part are, very respectful and smooth.

What can I say? What can’t I say during these sessions?  The intent of these fact findings is to bring the facts to light.  The employee is responsible to be open, honest and accountable. Your union representative is there to protect your rights and ensure proper process is followed, but they are not defense attorneys and will not be using legal gamesmanship to avoid the issues at hand.

This is a meeting about FACTS, not about what you may think of a situation. Avoid deflecting accountability by drawing others’ poor behavior into the conversation.  The employer may ask what others thought or said, but you should avoid commenting on how you believe others may think or feel about the incident or parties involved.

Do I get to have my say in the meeting? Of course – this is not a one sided barrage or cross examination.  During the meeting you will be asked several times if there is anything else you would like to add. This is the time where pertinent items to the event can be offered if they have not been addressed in the questioning.  This however is not the time to deflect accountability, point out others’ poor behavior or inject supposition or rumor into the meeting.  Your additions should be factual, pertinent and meaningful.

It is also likely that the employer will have investigated the issue by chatting with other employees named in the event.  These sessions are confidential and private, and employees are advised not to speak about these meetings outside of the HR/union/supervisory pathways.

How do I get Union representation?  Call 867-667-2331 as soon as you’ve been notified of the meeting, and ask for the intake officer.  They will ask you for the meeting time & location and ask whether have any idea what the meeting may involve.

Once this information is collected, YEU will make a call to the Shop Steward group to see who is available to attend your meeting.  Once the Shop Steward has confirmed their availability, the Steward will contact you to discuss the process and answer your questions prior to the meeting. Some Stewards will contact you well ahead of time while others, depending on time of notification, may make arrangements to speak with you just prior to the meeting.

What can I expect once the meeting is over? Timelines are usually established at the end of the meeting.  Your supervisor or the HR Representative will notify you of the timeline and might advise you that another meeting will be requested if more questions arise during their follow up.  Generally, the post-meeting fact finding time is one to two weeks.

What will happen to me? This depends on the incident and your role in what transpired.  One possible pathway is the performance management stream, another is discipline.  I will cover these topics in an upcoming performance management and discipline article on the blog; keep an eye out and have a read.

Remember, fact finding meetings are a normal part of any workplace and your YEU representatives are there to support you through these meetings.Rob-Jones-Y010-President-2016

In Solidarity,

Rob Jones

President – Local Y010

 

RYTS Caregivers and Youth-in-Care at Risk

Risk at RYTS bannerUnderstaffing puts Vulnerable Residents & Workers at Risk

Kids-in-care have faced more trauma than most of us will experience in a lifetime, most with first-hand exposure to violence & addictions.  Many have been subjected to instability, uncertainty and the absence of caring, consistent authority figures. Ensuring an environment that provides stability, nurturing and structure is no easy task.

The Government of Yukon operates 7 homes for youth-in-care in Whitehorse housing children from younger than 10 to 17 years old. These Residential Youth Treatment Services facilities (RYTS) are staffed around the clock by a group of dedicated workers, employees of the Department of Health & Social Services.  

*”Some children in residential care have complex problems. They have physical and mental health needs and can have multiple diagnoses.

Often these children have histories characterized by instability, abuse, neglect, and rejection. In some cases these children can act out violently and there is increased risk for addiction and risk taking behaviour.

Typically, children in residential care are angry, they are depressed, and they act out. For some youth, their placement into residential facilities is their last chance at social services before a move into the juvenile justice system. For younger children, a successful placement in a group home setting could prevent them from transfer to a more institutional setting.”

RYTS staff try to meet the physical, recreational and emotional needs of the children while making sure they attend school, medical and other appointments. The role these caregivers play is equal parts parent, tutor, counselor and guide. The staff provide the consistent presence of caring adults who do their best to maintain a calm home life despite the semi-institutional setting.

The Yukon Government is failing children in care and their caregivers through chronic understaffing and inadequate safeguards.

In homes occupied by traumatized children and youth, workers struggle to maintain a safe environment when they are forced to work alone. There are many clear and obvious dangers, including the threat of residents harming each other or violence directed against the adult caregiver. RCMP or social services also provide requirements for some of the youth; frequently, staff are legally obligated to maintain “line-of-sight” contact with more than one resident simultaneously, even when on duty alone. If a resident returns to a home intoxicated or aggressive, there is no back-up if a violent incident erupts.

RYTS workers have come to the union because they are concerned, even afraid. They report a dramatic increase in the number of shifts where only one worker is scheduled. RYTS staffers are expected to work alone overnight with residents who require specialized attention or care. While two staffers may be scheduled, if someone is ill or called away to another understaffed home, there is no effort made to bring in replacement personnel to fill the shift.  This creates a high risk environment for the worker, for the young people and exposes all parties to a heightened level  of liability.

Caregivers know the importance of maintaining a healthy and safe environment for these kids. A heavy burden of stress is carried home when that objective is compromised.                                                                                                                                                 

Frequent assaults on workers inspired the YWCHSB to conduct a safety audit in 2013. The recommendations of that audit, though not shared with the affected workers, have resulted in no significant changes in the unusually high risk workplaces.   

Chronic understaffing is one result of management’s  decision to reduce staffing costs, including costly overtime. These cost saving measures have also resulted in a series of incidents which put both workers & youth in danger.

In residences housing children who are likely to self-harm or cause harm to others, the safety net provided by a shift-partner is critical. When an at-risk occupant is escalating and violence is likely, who maintains the safety of the other residents? Who calls for help if a caregiver is working to maintain calm or has been injured?  

The Government of Yukon has a duty to provide a safe work environment for its workers while they do everything possible to provide a safe environment for the children they work with.

When a home is understaffed, programming that is scheduled and anticipated can’t take place. While the kids may have been promised a soccer game in the back yard after completing their homework, the lack of a shift partner can result in disappointment instead of reward.
 
The Department of Health & Social Services has been saving on wages at the expense of the youth in their care. Rather than hire more employees to ensure appropriate coverage, they have chosen to slash the number of Auxiliary On-Call hours by over 2000 in the past quarter. 2000 hours is equal to over 166 12-hour shifts UNSTAFFED; 166 shifts that were regularly staffed just a few months ago.

166 unstaffed shifts means recreational programs are not reliably maintained.
166 unstaffed shifts  means outings are cancelled.
166 unstaffed shifts  means increased tensions
& stress in the RYTS homes.
166 unstaffed shifts means higher risk of violent assault by traumatized house-mates.
166 unstaffed shifts suggest Whitehorse’s Residential Youth Treatment Services homes are being managed to serve the bottom line, and not to meet the needs of Yukon’s most vulnerable children.

We ask the Government of Yukon to show leadership and staff these homes appropriately, right now.

These children have faced enough uncertainty, instability and danger already. Let’s help them to rebuild, to develop their innate resilience and find hope.

“My concern is that they do not seem to have any regard for the children – we are a protection service for youth who come from horrendous, traumatic pasts and yet we don’t make decisions based on what is best for them but on what is best financially.

*Security Review, Residential Youth Treatment Services (RYTS) Prepared by Paladin Security, 2013 for YWCHSB

Read YEU’s Press Release HERE

Information Backgrounder HERE

Isn’t it Time for Gender Free Union Solidarity?

gender freeDear Friends & Comrades:

For years, the terms Brother and Sister have been used by unionists to call together our community. Continue reading

May 1, International Workers’ Day

Used with permission by Ricardo Levins Morales, artist.

May Day is celebrated by millions around the world as International Worker’s Day. A national public holiday in many countries, it has come to be known as the original Labour Day and honours both the contributions of workers and the achievements of the Labour movement.

The origins of May Day are bloody. On May 1 1886, workers in Chicago went on strike en masse, demanding an eight-hour work day. In the plans for 2 years, workers were ready to march. Up to 80,000 joined a parade up Michigan Avenue, arm-in-arm carrying union banners demanding shorter hours of work, higher pay  and an end to child labour.

A May 4th demonstration turned violent when a bomb exploded in the ranks of police on hand to disperse the crowd. Police opened fire on the crowd and in their panic many shot their own men:  67 policemen were wounded and 7 died, though only one as a result of the bomb blast. Four workers died that night and many more were injured.

Martial law was declared and labour leaders were rounded up and jailed across the US. In Chicago, four labour activists were tried & hanged for their  roles in the Haymarket Affair. Three more were pardoned shortly after, and the unjust judicial process was condemned by the Governor.

Today, May Day is celebrated as Labour Day in almost every industrial nation. During the 1990’s, the Chinese Government even created a week long holiday to honour its workers, though the holiday was restored to 1 day in 2008.

Despite its American origins, Labour Day is not observed on May 1 in the United States.  Concerned by the political threat of a holiday conceived by socialists & anarchists, Grover Cleveland pronounced the first Monday of September as the official Labour Day in 1894. During the “Red Scare” years of the 1950’s, Eisenhower went further and declared May 1 “Loyalty Day” in America.

In Canada, a September Labour Day was also declared a holiday by Prime Minister John Thompson in 1894, bowing to pressure from the working class. Canadian Labour organizations do honour the day however, and we wish you  a very happy International Workers’ Day on May 1, 2016.

Originally published in the YEU Newsletter, April 2016

Non-Profits & Yukon Employees’ Union: A Note from the President’s Desk

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 In the last few years YEU has seen a marked increase in the number of workers employed by non-profit groups who wish to organize their workplaces.
YEU does not have an organizing budget or organizing staff and we don’t go out into workplaces looking to organize them. Workers come to us looking for information, for support and assistance. Sometimes those organic internal organizing drives are successful and we sign a new bargaining unit and sometimes the workers aren’t interested or ready to unionize. Either way we’ve learned a lot from our new non-profit groups.

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Teegatha’Oh Zheh Bargaining Team

It may seem a bit counter-intuitive to unionize a non-profit. After all, those who work in such organizations often choose to do so because the organization’s goals align closely with their own belief systems.  Few pursue a career in a field populated by non-profits and NGO’s because they expect to make a lot of money; that decision is usually driven by a deeply held conviction or interest. The truth is these organizations often have precarious budgets and suffer from lack of long term financial certainty.

So how on earth does bringing a union into the mix help a precariously funded not for profit organization? Well, there are lots of reasons to unionize and money isn’t always top of the list. In fact it’s almost never the main reason groups decide to organize.

Many of our new smaller units are governed by volunteer boards. A Board of Directors provides oversight and direction to an Executive Director (in some cases), who manages staff. The problems we see often stem from the challenges created when well-meaning directors attempt to make human resource, policy and management decisions without a background in human resources, policy development or NFP management. Decisions made for financial or ideological reasons can impact staff in ways that are unexpected and negative.

Inviting a union in helps to establish a structure that benefits all parties who contribute skill and energy to the function of the NFP. A well-crafted contract ensures the needs of workers and management are met, and roles and expectations are clear. It also creates a fair and predictable workplace – an enormous advantage in what is often an otherwise unpredictable environment. And a secure workplace means less turn over of staff, which is more economical.
Last weekend I attended a Talking Union Basics course. It was exciting to see so many people taking this union fundamentals course and especially rewarding to see members from our newer locals attending union training.

The one thing that stands out for me about our Union is that we are a truly democratic organization. That commitment to democracy is evident from the moment employees decide they want to organize and join YEU; a majority of workers must sign cards to be granted union certification with the federally regulated Canadian Industrial Relations Board. From that moment on,  decisions like what goes into their collective agreement, whether to accept or reject that collective agreement are in the workers’ hands.

 

I want to recognize the workers of Help & Hope for Families, Teegatha ’Oh Zeh and Skookum Jim Emergency After Hours Outreach Services for devoting endless hours to an organizing process that can feel extremely frustrating at times. To you and to those groups quietly working toward union certification, I say congratulations & welcome to YEU.

Steve Geick, President

Yukon Employees’ Union