Government tells employees to stay home if they’re ill, but AHS program pushes workers to work sick

News release: For immediate release

“Workers, especially health care workers, should never be pushed to work when they feel sick.” — Danielle Larivee, First Vice-President, United Nurses of Alberta

While the government is telling Albertans to stay home if they’re sick, Alberta Health Services is pushing a program that actively discourages its employees from using sick time, said United Nurses of Alberta First Vice-President Danielle Larivee.

“Workers, especially health care workers, should never be pushed to work when they feel sick,” she stated. But this is exactly what AHS is doing by renewing emphasis on an employee “attendance awareness” program in the middle of the continuing coronavirus pandemic, Larivee warned.

“This is inappropriate and dangerous,” she said. “The dangers of this approach during a global pandemic should be obvious to everyone.”

“Attendance awareness” is a common human resources term for attendance-management programs often based on claims employees are abusing sick time or somehow cheating the system. Such programs are frequently used to monitor and punish what is actually appropriate use of sick time.

The renewed emphasis on attendance management at AHS combined with the elimination of special categories of leave for AHS employees required to self-isolate or care for dependents because of suspected or potential COVID-19 infection is incredibly badly timed, Larivee said.

“Because of COVID-19 we have all been advised not to work when we have any symptoms of infectious conditions,” she said. “This is appropriate and should continue to be the new normal in Canadian workplaces after the coronavirus crisis has ended.

“Surely it is obvious that this is not the right time to be bringing back a program that often results in employees being punished for being sick and pushes them to work when they are ill.”

Larivee noted UNA has been informed by AHS managers that COVID-19-related absences are not to be included in the attendance management program. However, AHS has refused to provide UNA with the management document that explains how managers are supposed to differentiate between COVID-19 absences and those related to other circumstances.

The employer’s refusal to provide us with an explanation of how this policy is supposed to work leaves our nurses extremely worried they could be putting their jobs at risk if they follow government direction and don’t go to work when they or their family members are sick,” she said.

Larivee concluded: “This needs to be rethought.” UNA urges AHS to reconsider implementation of the program.