Many of us are creatures of hope and live with the optimism of good health for the foreseeable future, until… The little research that I have done on health and hospitalization indicates that one enters a complex culture at a time when one is the most vulnerable. Navigating the hospital system, insurance system and institutional policies can be confusing at best. Those within the system possess insider knowledge and quickly usher the stranger/outsider (Camus) through a Kafkaesk maze of bureaucracies, leaving one feeling manipulated and disempowered, all in the name of health and service.
Admittedly, I knew little of our University’s policies until I, as BUFA’s Health and Safety Officer, assisted a few members through this maze, sometimes becoming lost along with my peers. I now share what I have learned believing that forewarned is half of the victory (Cervantes). That said, not everything is straight foreword.
First, unlike workers who log hours as a demonstration of their time on task, our work hours are far more flexible, albeit often exceeding 40 hours a week. Our productivity is determined by annual reviews, not clock hours. Such is the flexibility and the tyranny of our vocation. Seldom are we off the clock as our minds are occupied with emergent teaching and research ideas. A colleague has said, “we are working, even while sitting on our back decks.”
However, many policies and procedures are designed around an hourly clock. For a clock hour worker, if a sick day is taken it is recorded and goes against the number allotted during a particular period. If we are sick during a day that is not scheduled for teaching or meetings, it is seldom, if ever reported. Naismith claims that such a degree of bureaucratization would be inefficient (my next blog). It is unrealistic for Human Resources (HR) to get involved. Imaging being sick for a week in July and having to report it! We make up the time with weekends and extra hours. But during teaching semesters, it is different and here rests the rub. Here is what we need to know:
1) We are allotted 105 sick days. According to the Collective Agreement:
34.07 Sick Leave
a. In cases where members are unable to perform their duties as a result of illness or accident, they shall be entitled to full salary and benefits for up to 105 days.
b. The member shall inform the Chair, Centre Director, or Library Department Head and the Dean or University Librarian, as appropriate, as soon as possible of his/her illness so adequate alternative arrangements can be made to fulfill the member’s duties.
c. The University may, with reasonable notice, request that the member provide an acceptable medical certificate stating, to the extent possible, the impact on the individual’s ability to perform his/her duties and prognosis with respect to the member’s ability to return to work.
d. In the event the member remains unable to perform his/her duties as a result of illness or accident after 105 days, he/she is eligible to apply for benefits in accordance with the provisions of the Long Term Disability Income Plan, except as described in Article 22A.02 (Retirement).
In addition there is a provision for an extended illness while on vacation:
33.09 If a member contracts an illness or injury demonstrated by a medical certificate while on vacation, the days to which the illness or injury applies shall be counted as sick leave under Article 34.07 (Leaves). The remaining days of vacation may be rescheduled at a mutually agreeable time. Agreement shall not be unreasonably sought or withheld.
Still, while not necessary, some, if possible, book surgeries away from times of teaching responsibilities as not to inconvenience others. Work is done due to our collective generosity. These may or may not be documented as part of the 105 days.
When one does apply for sick leave under 34.07, documentation will most likely be required, 34.07c. Thus marks the entrance to maze. One’s doctor can be contacted and asked to provide the university with a medical certificate. Most are unaccustomed in providing doctor’s note and may feel that one is assumed guilty until proven innocent.
2) The next stage shifts to a Return to Work Plan. If a member plans to return to work within the 105 days, the transition can be fairly seamless. Still, it is within your rights to have a BUFA representative accompany you to a meeting with HR and this is highly recommended.
3) If one expects to exceed the 105 days, take heed. Unless you either sign a) Transitional Return to Work Plan or b) Long Term Disability (LTD) claim, your salary will cease. For example, if your 105 days ends on December 24, you will not be paid for December 25.
4) There can be some flexibility and a variety of options in a Transitional Return to Work Plan and it is advisable that you have this in place well before the 105 days are up. One can have a combination of a partial return to work with LTD, request an accommodation (See Article 15 below), take a reduced salary… Again, consulting with BUFA is advisable.
ARTICLE 15 – ACCOMMODATION OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
15.01 The Brock University Policy on Accommodation of Persons with Disabilities in Employment Opportunities dated February 2010 shall have effect during the life of this Agreement with the following amendments and clarifications of the way its terms shall apply to members of the Union.
The terms of the Brock University Policy on Accommodation of Persons with Disabilities in Employment Opportunities, as it applies to faculty and professional librarian members, shall not be amended nor shall the Policy be replaced without the prior agreement of the Union.
A copy of the Brock University Policy on Accommodation of Persons with Disabilities in Employment Opportunities, including any amendments agreed to by the Parties, will be made available on the University Secretariat’s website (www.brocku.ca/secretariat).
The Parties agree as follows:
a. That should a member request accommodation for a disability, including any modification of an existing accommodation, he/she will contact Human Resources. The member may be represented or accompanied by an advocate appointed by the Union. References to members throughout this Article will be understood to include the advocate.
b. If appropriate, accommodation will be considered in any aspect of the member’s workload.
c. The member or the University may consult, jointly or separately, with people who have appropriate expertise both inside and outside the University. Each will keep the other fully informed of the consultations and any results of these consultations.
The member and the University will agree on an Accommodation Plan and the University will make all reasonable efforts to implement the Plan. The Parties agree that Accommodation Plans should be agreed to and implemented in as timely a manner as possible.
d. Accommodations will include, when and to the degree appropriate, modification of performance review and of the time requirements for tenure/permanence and promotion decisions. Any such arrangement will be recorded as part of the Accommodation Plan. In addition, such arrangement will be undertaken so as to facilitate, insofar as possible, the member meeting the accepted standard for tenure, promotion, performance review, etc., rather than to define a different standard.
5) Again, the insurance provider may request additional medical information, this time usually from an expert not a general practitioner. Again it is best to have this arranged prior to the end of Sick Leave. This can continue to retirement or in the event of a full or partial recovery, a graduated return to work with salary and insurance is possible.
6) “The last scene of all that may end this strange eventful” set of procedures is age 65. LTD in no longer provided after this age. The current Collective Agreement states:
22A.02 The terms of the long term disability benefit (LTD) coverage available to Bargaining Unit members do not extend past the June 30 immediately following a member’s sixty-fifth (65th) birthday. Accordingly, members of the Bargaining Unit who work beyond the June 30 following their sixty-fifth (65th) birthday are not eligible for LTD benefit coverage.
Coverage for the Extended Short Term Disability Plan respecting members over the age of 65 would be in accordance with Article 34.07(e)
Article 34.07(e) Members over the age of 65 are required to join the Extended Short Term Disability Plan, and premiums will be deducted monthly. The Extended Short Term Disability Plan will provide members who qualify according to the terms of the plan with a non-taxable benefit equal to sixty per cent (60%) of salary up to a maximum of $1,615 per week for up to thirteen (13) weeks beyond the expiration of the normal sick leave of 105 days (Article 34.07 (a)).
As a final note, members have claimed that the anxiety of the maze is reduced when one has the support of colleagues. It cannot be repeated often enough that you contact BUFA if you find yourself entering such an unfortunate situation.
More information can be found at < http://www.brocku.ca/hr-ehs/healthmang/std>
Live long, prosper and the best of health,
BUFA Health and Safety Officer