The Boss Wants your Medical Records? Call the Union …Quick!

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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

Yukon’s Community Nurses Need Resourses STAT!

Community Ncarmacks-health-centre-signursing Stations serve the medical needs of residents and visitors in some of the most isolated corners of the Yukon.  In the absence of multiple healthcare facilities, these clinics offer a dizzying array of services from first response to referral. When doctors visit from Whitehorse, the health centres get even busier. Community Nurses provide prenatal care, counselling, nutrition support, maternal health programming, diabetes education and more.

Year after year more programs are added to the responsibilities of Community nurses with no increase in staffing to reflect the added workload. Consequently, nurses are frustrated and burning out; there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. They are relied upon heavily by local RCMP detachments and work hand in hand with social services and First Nations. In communities with volunteer EMS teams, the nurses must frequently step in to fill the gap when volunteers are unavailable and resources are few.

Nurses are at daily risk of workplace violence. In small communities they face dramatically increased incidences of physical & verbal abuse on the job. Respite is critical to ensure these workers stay healthy. Time away from the intense stress levels of a sometimes 24/7 job can make the difference between doing the job well and suffering a tremendous physical and emotional toll.

In June of this year PSAC’s Regional REVP and National Vice President travelled to several Yukon Community Health Centres with me. Their conversations with nurses in those centPelly Crossing Health Centre signres were sobering.

Despite improvements to Collective Agreement language in recent contracts, the employer continues to deny earned vacation leave to exhausted nurses, citing “operational requirements” and lack of staffing.  Staffing levels are a genuine concern. When a nurse works an on-call shift rotation lasting up to 10 days, the resultant lack of sleep and downtime can be nearly debilitating and there’s often no relief in sight.

Nurses tell us that vacant positions remain un-filled; medical centres that are intended to be staffed by 2 nurses at all times frequently rely on a single nurse with no back-up. A 7 day work week is the rule and not the exception and a knock on the nurse’s door at home in the middle of the night is all too common. No matter how far in advance leave is requested it is often denied simply because there is no-one available to cover. Nurses often seek coverage themselves, in fact, before applying for vacation.

These nurses fill a vital Meadow-with-mug CMYKrole in the communities they serve. Their level of personal sacrifice is testament to their degree of commitment and professionalism, but there must be relief in sight.  As YEU and YG enter bargaining this year there is hope that some of the chronic issues plaguing Community Nursing will be resolved.

Unfortunately there is only so much we can accomplish at the bargaining table. The issues Community Nurses face will only be resolved if the Yukon Government steps up, takes notice and shows the political will to do so. Nurses simply cannot continue to provide the level of care they so desperately want to, that all Yukoners expect and deserve, with ever dwindling numbers and little hope of meaningful change. YEU’s voice and the voice of the nurses will only go so far. If you live in a community or have ever had to rely on this amazing group of professionals I urge you to write to your MLA, the Premier, the Minister of Health and any other entity that will listen. It’s your health, your family’s health and that of the nurses at stake.  Ultimately it’s up to the politicians to ensure adequate healthcare resources are available to everyone…especially those providing the care.

In the meantime, we salute all nurses for the important and difficult work they do.

Steve Geick, YEU President
& Proud Community Nurse

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Leave Request DENIED!

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It’s been a long year – you’ve been crazy busy at work and you can’t wait to take your vacation.  You’ve made plans; maybe even booked a plane ticket and started looking for a house-sitter. It’s time to start counting down the days ‘til you hit the road.

Then you hear the dreaded words … your request for leave has been denied. You’ve got the leave in your bank and there’s no question – you need the break, but your supervisor cites “operational requirements”. Suddenly your plans are washed away like a sandcastle at high tide.

The words Operational Requirements can be a magical get out of jail free card for an employer. This phrase is often used to cover a number of situations including costs of overtime, challenges planning workload etc., but it’s your employer’s responsibility to anticipate and plan for operational needs. They’re required to organize their business so employees can exercise their Collective Agreement rights, including leave entitlements. When considering leave requests, supervisors must consider the employees’ interests and balance them against the Employer’s need to continue doing business without an appreciable loss of production or efficiency.

So what can you do when you’ve been denied, you’re exhausted and desperate to get out of dodge? Can you file a grievance? Should you try and negotiate or should you throw yourself on the floor kicking and bawling ‘til they beg you to take leave?

1. First of all, don’t book the seat sale tickets unless your leave is approved. Telling your supervisor “I’ve already booked tickets”  will not help you.

2. If you work in specialized field, a field that tends to be under-resourced or a workplace that has predictable busy times, plan ahead.  Get your leave request in early; there’s not much your manager or union can do for you when your request comes in last and everyone wants to be gone for the month of July.

3. Watch the calendar; if you’ve submitted your leave request and you don’t hear back within the number of days prescribed in your collective agreement, your leave may have been approved by default. (Most CA’s require your employer to approve deny your leave in writing within a couple of weeks of submission). Follow up with an e-mail confirming that your leave has been approved.

4. Call YEU and speak with the advisory staff. While refusals to grant leave are most often not grievable because of the circumstances or because there is no remedy to be granted, don’t assume that “operational requirements” ends the conversation. The employer has obligations under the Collective Agreement, and we are here to ensure those obligations are met fairly.