When Bad Policy Puts You in Danger
Know Your Rights to Ensure You are Safe at Work
By Kevin Gates, Representative
I attended a meeting recently with a homecare PSW who was being disciplined for having her phone with her at a client’s home. I sat and listened as the employer directed the employee to leave her phone in the car in the future before going into the client’s home to provide care.
When it was my turn to speak, I reminded the employer that Section 32.02(2)(b) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) requires employers to provide their employees with appropriate measures and procedures for summoning immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur.
“If staff are being directed to leave their phones in the car prior to entering a client’s home,” I asked, “how are they supposed to summon assistance in the event of an emergency?” Discipline withdrawn and meeting adjourned.
Seems like a happy ending, right? The problem with this incident is that it illustrates a broader problem with both employers and employees. The employer should have known about its obligations under the act to ensure employees could summon help in the event of an emergency. The employer’s cellphone policy, without the provision of other personal alarms or communication devices, is a clear violation of the act.
At the same time, the PSWs who had been working under this unsafe cellphone policy should have notified the union or contacted a Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) member about this serious concern to their personal safety. While this situation did not result in an incident of workplace violence, the failure to adhere to the OHSA left workers vulnerable in the event of an emergency.
Most employers do their best to protect their workers from workplace violence. But in this case, the employer clearly lost sight of its obligations. In attempting to address a legitimate problem of employees malingering on their phone, when they are supposed to be providing patient care, the employer enacted a policy that created a dangerous situation for its employees.
This is exactly why employees must be aware of their rights and protections under the OHSA so that they can recognize if and when their employer is missing the mark and failing to provide adequate protection from workplace violence or other health and safety concerns.
If you have any concerns about your personal safety during the course of your work, do not hesitate to contact your health and safety rep, a member of the JHSC, or your steward.