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.
This week we have seen discrimination at its ugliest, its most vile. We watched in horror as news broke from Orlando Florida of the hate-inspired murder of so many at a gay nightclub but this is only the most recent in a long list of attacks. While we may try and label those as random acts committed by crazed killers, the truth is that systemic discrimination and inequality maintain an environment where such hatred can flourish. The fact that media is hesitant to call this a hate crime illustrates the pervasive discrimination this community consistently faces.
The Liberal Government has introduced legislation to protect transgender people from discrimination and hate crimes. The bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender expression or identity. Prime Minister Trudeau stated “Far too many people still face harassment, discrimination and violence for being who they are. This is unacceptable”.
YEU has been working alongside our trans and gender non-conforming members, urging employers to ensure difference does not preclude employment, workplace safety or dignity. A system designed without thought for those outside the strict male/female binary ensures trans workers face discrimination at every stage of their employment journey.
Within the corporate structure of YG, workers regularly encounter incidental discrimination in the form of old policies, language and practices established before anyone considered inclusion as an objective. That type of discriminatory practice and language is not difficult to remedy, if the will exists.
From the moment an employee receives their offer of employment, they are forced into a system that makes all gender identities besides male and female invisible. To accept a job with YG, individuals must log in through an online portal and select a gender from a drop down menu – the options are Male, Female and Unknown. For a worker who is clear in their gender identity, “Unknown” is an affront. This is gender-based, systemic discrimination. Even the forms required to access medical leave or to request accommodation offer two gender options; male & female. In cases where a trans worker is seeking accommodation, the forms required for accommodation cannot be completed.
Some expressions of intolerance are more overt. Trans or gender non-conforming workers are afraid to be themselves in the workplace for fear of bullying or jeopardizing career advancement. The workplace culture permits supervisors to use their own personal discomfort with others’ gender presentation as a reason to restrict access to training, to promotion, to employment itself. In strict gender dichotomous work-sites, the need to accommodate workers is seen as too great a burden and employees are at risk of being performance managed out of work. Of course other reasons are given officially, but it’s easy to see prejudice at play. A tranPULSE study from Ontario notes that 13% of transgender people report they have been “constructively dismissed” for being transgender.
Some employers are doing a better job. The City of Whitehorse has initiated required LGBTQI Welcoming Workplace training for all staff in an effort to create an equitable work environment and to ensure clients don’t experience discrimination when accessing City services. Yukon College has taken steps as well through Transgender Remembrance services. Private employers like Starbucks have policies & literature educating employees on the sensitive use of pronouns, and are quick to act in support of a worker who faces discrimination from colleagues or a supervisor.
Until the Human Rights Act is amended to explicitly include gender identity and expression as protected grounds, trans and gender non-conforming Yukoners are covered under the protected grounds of sex. Employers must respect that trans workers need to be in safe and appropriate work situations. Forcing them to identify gender at every step of their process, demanding doctor’s verification of gender identity, encroaching on dignity through intrusive and unnecessary procedural systems is a violation of the Human Rights Act.
Yukon Employees’ Union invites the Government of Yukon to act as a model employer. Create gender neutral washrooms and remove the need to identify gender. Entrench policies and procedures which recognize some workers are gender non-conforming, trans, inter-sex and 2 spirited. Work collaboratively with the trans community to identify where gaps exist and how best to bridge them.
Recognize that accommodation requests from trans employees are not intrinsically medical in nature and stop demanding medical certificates for non-medical issues. Acknowledge your responsibility to protect workers, no matter their gender identity, under the Human Rights Act.
Yukon Government is re-launching a diversity training program through the Yukon Women’s Directorate entitled GIDA, Gender Inclusive Diversity Analysis. The GIDA documents state “Good public policy works toward ending discrimination in Yukon society and creating a society that includes everyone.” Sadly the document refers to intersectionality & inclusion while only ever referencing women and men, boys and girls. There is not a single reference to trans or gender non-conforming individuals nor any mention of those who exist outside the binary. Even this training program, designed to help identify & eradicate discrimination, discriminates.
An authentic culture of inclusion will benefit our Yukon community far beyond the workplace doors. We challenge you to create a new standard of equality and inclusion to help diminish hatred and violence.
Ready, Willing and Able is a new national employment program aimed at increasing the labour force participation rate of people with disabilities. This federally-funded initiative has been launched in 20 communities across Canada and has seen some great successes; Whitehorse is no exception. The Yukon Association for Community Living is moving into our second year of working with the program.
YACL’s employment team is made up of a Labour Market Facilitator and several job coaches. Together we have worked to support more than 20 new employment opportunities for Yukoners experiencing various disabilities. As part of our role, we’ve engaged with dozens of employers to identify employment opportunities and we’ve provided on-the-job support to workers with disabilities and to their co-workers and supervisors. Support comes in the form of ongoing job coaching and other job-specific accommodations.
We hear so many success stories both nationally and locally as employers access a pool of hard working, long term and dedicated employees who love their jobs. These workers are gaining independence and building a social circle and meaningful ways to participate and actively contribute to their community. We start with the employer’s need and work to find the right match of skills and interest in an employment candidate. YACL is working to foster long lasting and successful working relationships between businesses and employees who are hard working, positive and capable additions to the workplace team.
The types of jobs found and supported through Ready, Willing and Able range from less than part-time to full-time, in small businesses to large, and across a variety of skill sets.
A key component of Ready, Willing and Able is helping businesses realize the value in hiring a person with a disability when the right match is made between job position and individual. In these cases, businesses across the country are seeing extremely low turnover rates, high levels of accuracy and dedication and an overall positive and motivating shift in workplace culture.
YACL has also initiated and coordinates an Odd Job Squad; a group of people who have interest and ability in labour and trades work, offering short term services to businesses and community members. They mobilize for odd jobs like small construction projects, snow shovelling, yard work, stacking wood and more. By supporting a good quality and dependable on-demand labour force we help workers gain skills and make connections, developing opportunities for longer-term future employment.
YACL has partnered with YuWIN and other disability organizations, developing new campaigns to further engage the business community and other potential employers. This includes web-based marketing but also provides opportunities to recognize success. We thank businesses that have been key players in inclusive hiring. We plan to develop training and education opportunities for businesses who may be interested in becoming involved but want to learn more.
If you’re interested in the Odd Job Squad or in becoming a supporter of our programs please contact Kathleen Hare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 667-4606.
Article submitted by Yukon Association for Community Living
Yukon’s PSAC Pride Committee rep, MLA Lois Moorcroft and trans Rights activist Chase Blodgett at the Yukon Legislative Assembly following the passing of a motion forwarding Trans Rights in the Yukon Human Rights Act.
May 14th 2015 marked a positive step toward a more equitable Yukon. Lois Moorcroft, MLA for Copperbelt South presented a motion to change the Yukon’s Human Rights Act to include language specifically protecting the rights of Yukon trans people. Her motions read:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to review, and introduce amendments to, the Human Rights Act, before the end of its current mandate, to protect the human rights of trans people by adding “gender identity” and “gender expression” under section 7 of the Act as a prohibited ground for discrimination. 525. Ms. Moorcroft (Motion No. 994)
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to review its legislation, programs and services and introduce required amendments or policy changes in order to ensure the human rights of trans people are fully protected.
To most progressives, that seems straight forward. Simple. A no-brainer, even. Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers, Minister of Justice countered that all Yukon people are protected under Article 7 of the Yukon Human Rights Act which lists” sexual orientation” as prohibited grounds for discrimination. Ms. Moorcroft put forward the argument that sexual orientation is a different thing entirely from whether or not one feels their gender identity aligns with the gender designated to them at birth.
The motion was debated, spun around, debated again, argued for and argued against. In the end as an olive branch and with a nod to the large gallery of concerned members of our community, Mr. Cathers proposed amending to the motion to add the words CONSIDER INTRODUCING AMENDMENTS and THE NEXT TIME THE ACT IS REVIEWED.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Moorcroft (and the gallery) felt the government’s offer to CONSIDER changing the legislation at some theoretical distant future date was not in keeping with the spirit of the motion. The proposed amendment provided no certainty, no sense of urgency and no genuine commitment to change.
The floor of the Legislative Assembly became quite animated, with MLA’s and Ministers leaving the room and returning, conferring in the hallway with pages ferrying notes back and forth across the floor.
When all was said and done, and thanks in no small part to the contributions of Klondike MLA Sandy Silver, there was unanimous agreement to pass the motion without the word CONSIDER included. The work will now be to ensure the Yukon Party maintains its commitment and prioritizes a review of the Yukon’s Human Rights Act sooner than later.
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to advance equal rights for transsexual, transgender and gender-variant people by:
(1) introducing amendments to explicitly include “gender identity” and “gender expression” under section 7 of the Yukon Human Rights Act as a prohibited ground for discrimination the next time the act is reviewed;
(2) supporting full equality and respect for trans people accessing Yukon government jobs, programs and services; and
(3) using public education to fight intolerance, discrimination and violence against trans people.
The motion received the unanimous support of all MLA’s in a recorded vote.
PSAC and YEU Activists were present in the gallery along with other community members. YEU delegates to the PSAC National Convention in Quebec City in early May were particularly interested, as a series of resolutions addressing the rights of transgender people were brought to the floor, and all were passed with overwhelming support. Unions have always walked alongside those who work to change the status quo. We are proud to be a part of the journey.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead, 1901-1978
A seven year legal battle for two Ontario residents and a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada set a legal precedent on what constitutes a disability under Human Rights legislation. Employees who suffer from an illness or injury that restricts or limits their ability to perform their duties are considered to be “disabled” under employment law; addictions and alcoholism are considered disabilities.
Under the Yukon Human Rights Act, an employer must accommodate disabled employees – this is the “duty to accommodate”. The right to equality for persons with disabilities is entrenched in Human Rights legislation across Canada. If an employee suffers from an addiction they may have access to a workplace accommodation while they are recovering.
We say may because the duty to accommodate usually follows disclosure by the employee. The employee may believe they suffer from an addiction but unless this is disclosed, it’s tough for the employer to know what supports are appropriate.
An accommodation can be anything from altered hours of work, time off to attend counseling or treatment or even modified duties. It may mean working in a different position or location. The intent is to reduce or eliminate the risk of further injury or illness, to meet operational needs and to allow the individual to continue working while recovery takes place.
If an employer suspects a medical condition may be affecting an employee’s performance, they have a duty to inquire. This means they may ask the employee if there are any medical restrictions or limitations, or if they have a medical condition they should be aware of. This isn’t an invasion of your privacy just for the sake of asking; if you are asked, it likely means your employers have noticed you are struggling.
What can you do if you believe addiction is affecting your ability to carry out your duties? Ask for help! Talk to your family or friends, consult with your family physician and tap into your employee assistance program.
If you believe you need a workplace accommodation, ask YEU for a union representative to help you talk to your supervisor. Some employers offer financial support to attend treatment programs, follow up counseling or other rehabilitative programs. All employers have a legal duty to accommodate an employee to the point of undue hardship.
If you’re in doubt about your responsibilities and your rights as a disabled employee or if you have any questions please contact YEU and your human resource branch. There is confidential support available and all levels can work together to help. For your protection, it makes sense to make sure you have union support when you approach your employer; we will be with you every step of the way.
“Office romance alert: it looks like Mr. Shiny-Shoes is cheating on his wife with Ms. Short-Skirts!!”
“All women are cheaters!”
We’ve all heard of cyber-bullying and online harassment through social media. Did you know that if you engage in harassing behaviour online, you can be disciplined at work? The rules of your employment don’t end when you go home for the day. With the rise of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, what we say online can really affect our working lives.
It doesn’t matter if you’re posting from your home computer long after your work day ends; if your online behaviour can be linked to your workplace, your employer may have a legal obligation to make sure you are not harassing your co-workers. The law says employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe and harassment-free workplace. That includes ensuring protection from after-hours cyber-bullying.
Ask yourself the following questions to consider whether your online activities may be inviting discipline:
1. Is what you are saying online harassing? Is it critical, mean or overtly personal?
The first thing an employer would have to consider is whether what you said was actually a problem.
~Were your comments about a specific person or could they be reasonably interpreted to be about a specific person?
~Were your comments offensive or bullying in nature (the argument that you were making a joke won’t fly here)?
~Were they discriminatory (were they about a protected ground in the Yukon Human Rights Act)?
~Were your comments objectively inappropriate?
2. Were your comments made in a public forum?
We tend to think of some arenas as private: your kitchen, your car, your Facebook wall….?!
Although there are different levels of privacy on social media, Facebook & Twitter are NOT private. Even if you post in a private message, your comments could be shared using screen capture or other tools.
If you have made offensive comments that you intended to be seen by a private audience (through a private message on Facebook, or to a select few followers on Twitter), you could argue that your comments were not made in a public forum. Proving that your comments were not public would help any argument you would make if your employer disciplines you for online comments. The reality is that once you put something out on the web you lose control of it.
3. Were your comments reasonably connected to work?
If your comments were about a specific person in your workplace, whether you named them or just made it clear who you were talking about, your employer (and co-workers and friends and community members) could reasonably conclude that your comments were connected to the workplace, and therefore have an obligation to act.
If you identify yourself on social media as working in that specific workplace, then your employer may also conclude that any comments you make are related to work and reflect poorly on the employer. Therefore, they may act to discipline you.
If the answer to any of these questions is YES, your employer may have a legal obligation to discipline you.
It is a complicated issue and there is not enough room here to go into the complexities. In the end, the best thing to remember is DON’T BE MEAN ONLINE! Not only does it hurt other people, but it could come back to hurt you at work too!
Christie Harper, YEU Union Advisor