How does your company deal with absenteeism?

Vancouver Coastal Health thought it had a good solution, but has now suspended the program

How does your company deal with absenteeism?

A program designed to reduce employees’ absences has been suspended by Vancouver Coastal Health amid continued complaints from various groups.

The Attendance and Wellness Program, which had been in place since 2008, required nurses and other hospital workers who took more than the average number of absences in a month to meet with supervisors.

They would explain why they were absent so many times and discuss how to make changes in their lives so further absences can be prevented.

Five years ago, an aspect of the program – enabling Coastal Health to deny overtime to or fire those often absent – was ordered removed after several groups including Hospital Employees’ Union, the Health Sciences Association, the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the United Food and Commercial Workers filed grievances.

Even with the excised provisions, however, the program continued to rankle unions, specifically the BC Nurses’ Union.

According to Christine Sorensen, the union’s acting president, her members resent justifying their absences and feel that the program intruded into their privacy.

“Often, there were punitive threats, like if your attendance doesn’t improve, something will happen.”

While full-time nurses get 18 sick days a year, members felt bad about taking sick days, Sorensen said.

“They need to take sick time when they are sick. They should not be attending work and potentially spreading infections to patients. They have a professional responsibility to stay home if they’re unwell.”

Meanwhile, Vancouver Coastal Health says it is looking at other ways to address employee absenteeism.

“We strongly discourage our staff from coming into work if they are ill. Our Attendance and Wellness Program was designed to be a supportive and preventative approach for those who take more than average sick time. Through a review of the Employee Wellness Program we determined there may be better ways to support our staff, so we have put the program on hold and are reviewing how we can best support them through their illness,” it said in a statement.

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