Return to Work with Union Involvement
This is an all-too-common occurrence – right? Many organizations have a union and some have multiple unions. Hospitals have at least 5 for the most part. You have to work with them. There is no way around this.
When an employer says to me, how do you manage unions or do you have a problem working with unions, I shake my head. Seriously! Why would I, or anyone in any organization, have a problem working with unions?
This is where I stand on unions. There is a collective agreement that you need to follow but in these times there should NOT be one union contract out there that doesn’t support their fellow brother or sister in returning to work in an early and safe manner. There should be no dispute, no taking of sides, no contravening the union contract and no delay in the return to work process. It is to everyone’s benefit to have an employee come back to work in a timely manner. End of discussion!
Now what I see happening between union and management can easily be rectified when it comes to a sick or injured employee. At the end of the day, employees have rights if they aren’t well, to be treated by a licensed health care practitioner, with appropriate time off, if they are totally disabled; AND employers have rights to have their employees at work in a suitable modified position that allows for continuation of productivity whether this is the employee’s own job or alternate job. There is every reason to attempt modified work. It just doesn’t make sense if the parties aren’t agreeing on this one.
In one of the hospitals I worked in, north of Toronto, I spoke to the Chief of the Emergency Department and this is what we agreed upon. The doctors will assess the employee’s ability to function by providing limitations, but in the end it is the employer that decides whether or not there is modified work available in order to present it to the family doctor, the employee, and the union representative. Here is where the negotiations begin. There should never be, ‘nope, our member isn’t coming back to work.’ It should be, ‘how can we make this work for everyone.’
If you and your union representatives aren’t on the same page, then you are fighting a fight that has nothing to do with the sick/injured worker. This is a very old and tiring, non-profitable way to manage your work force and your union members, and vice versa. If you, as a union representative are not agreeing to a return to work, then there is a problem. The discussion needs to be ‘what’ is being offered only, as in, is it suitable for the limitations provided and in a reasonable time frame for full recovery to occur. Unions should not stop a return to work from occurring but instead they should ensure their members have an appropriate return to work plan that is progressive with a specific end date in sight to return to full duties.
Lucie M.H. Fournier RN, COHN(C), BA (Psych)
Founder/Workplace Health Strategist
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