Courtesy of WCB Advocate Adam Picotte
I write this email on April 28, the day of mourning. A day when we remember the thousands of workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace related disease. There is an urgency to this observance this year when each of us is either working in or know people working in essential services and putting their lives at risk for the people of British Columbia. Because of the pandemic, the day or mourning is being broadcast online and can be viewed at 10:30am at https://www.dayofmourning.bc.ca/#.
I will provide a brief WCB update in this email and then focus on my top three themes for managing workplace returns during COVID-19.
The Board is introducing a welcome change to their operation over the next few weeks as it will begin communicating with workers and representatives over email. With written consent, case managers will start to use email during the claims process to share information such as completed forms and return to work plans. The goal is to have this available to all workers by early May. I will provide further information about this as it becomes available.
Themes for returning to work
My top three themes for managing workplace returns during COVID-19 are the following: income security, balancing safety with economic stability, and balancing privacy with economic stability. While some industries such as health care have predominantly remained active because of essential services, many industries have been closed or reduced. However, even those that have remained open will be looking to implement policies that ensure focus on productive employment. To this end, employers will be looking to put the weight of the burden on workers. I will discuss each of these in turn and give my quick take on things to consider from a unionized perspective.
Employers will be looking to return workers as quickly as possible with the least associated costs. They will want to maintain production or economic activity and not risk disruption due to an outbreak. My sense is that this will result in employers being quick to send people home without a diagnosis of confirmation of illness. So what steps can you take? Consider the following:
- Allow for periods of paid leave when there is a suspicion of COVID-19. This will ensure workers do not attend work sites when potentially exposed and encourage early testing for the disease.
- Given that many workplaces will be looking to bring in selective people from the workforce or may want to return employees outside of seniority, rely upon seniority provisions in your collective agreement to obtain the best result for your members.
Balancing safety with economic stability
This is arguably where labour will have the strongest ability to assert control over processes. Employers are required to ensure a safe and secure workplace and unions have recourse through both the WCB, Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, and collective agreements to ensure this takes place. In order to ensure worker safety, consideration should be given to policies that address the following:
- What provisions are in place for personal protective equipment.
- To what extent is social distancing required to ensure safety.
- Can work be done safely at home or in an alternate setting.
- Can alternative schedules be created to ensure those taking transit are not placed at increased risk.
Balancing privacy with economic stability
Privacy is one of the union’s strongest tools when dealing with employer overreach. I have already heard from a number of you about employer testing for temperatures and requiring medical clearance forms. Ultimately, what an employer can require needs to be balanced against the individual privacy considerations of each employee. We are living in uncertain times and this creates a greater emphasis on testing and medical clearance. My quick takes on this are as follows:
- Meet the employer on the front end to work on policies for testing.
- Ensure any policy is initially temporary and include provisions for revisiting the policy after a few months.
- Any requirement for medical information must be for a specific purpose and must be limited in scope for the purpose it is being obtained for.
- When negotiating these terms with employers, remember to rely upon anti-discrimination terms in your collective agreements and the incorporation of provincial or federal human rights code as the case may be.