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

your-medical-history

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

YG’s New Voluntary Severance Provision: What you NEED to know

yg severance provision graphic*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 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

 

 

YG’s Increased Vision Care Benefit: When does it kick in?

18605184 - broken glasses isolated on white

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.

  1. 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.

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.

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

Steve new camera