CITY OF BRANDON
The average number of sick hours used by employees in city departments in 2012.
A staggering amount of sick time is being used by Brandon Fire and Emergency Services personnel, and one city councillor is hoping for some answers.
Coun. Murray Blight (Victoria) asked city administration to look into the issue after receiving complaints regarding the amount of accumulated sick time, as well as accusations of sick leave abuse.
"I’ll be very frank. If there are people abusing it then they need to be challenged for the reason why," Blight said.
City manager Scott Hildebrand recently responded to the enquiry by providing a city-wide graph indicating the average sick time per employee, across all departments in 2012.
Fire and Emergency Services topped the list by a significant margin. The amount of sick time per employee in that department was an average of 132 hours. That’s more than double the average (52 hours) of all city departments.
"I really wish I knew why that is," Hildebrand said. "They’ve always been the high department for years. It’s hard to know where to even start … This is a major priority for the organization because it costs everybody money and we’d rather have people at work than away sick."
Blight, a retired police officer, said he knows that some firefighters run businesses on the side, and wonders if that factors into the high number of sick days.
"Is that why? I don’t know," he said. "Even during my days as president of the police association, we always monitored, or if we noticed someone was using an excessive amount of sick time, we would inquire. We just respected the whole thing ... Anybody that books (off) before they start a shift or the day of their last shift, I always got suspicious, to be quite truthful."
According to fire Chief Brent Dane, there were 4,863 sick hours used in the department in 2009, compared to 8,743 in 2012. Dane says this needs to be corrected.
"It has a fiscal impact on the department and the operations of this department," he said.
In many jobs, if an employee calls in sick, they just catch up on their work when they return. But for firefighters and emergency personnel, often another employee will need to be called in on overtime to cover for a sick colleague.
"That has a significant impact on my budget and a cost to the taxpayers," Dane said.
The amount paid out in 2012 for overtime related to covering sick time was in excess of $220,000.
City administration is attempting to tackle the issue by working with unions and employees in what’s called an "attendance management program."
"Some people may or may not even know how many sick days they’ve taken in a year, so we’re just providing that data and having more conversations to educate and make them aware… that we’re concerned," Hildebrand said.
One department has already seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of sick time used over the past year. The transportation department went from roughly 100 hours of sick time for the average employee to 50 hours, according to Hildebrand.
For the fire and emergency services department, Dane said they will look at an employee’s history and see if there are any trends over the years.
"All steps of trying to get employees into the workplace and reduce ... the cost to the department and the cost to the community," Dane said. "I’m hoping the program works."
As far as the accusations of sick time abuse, Dane said "you want to believe in your employees and you want to believe that they’re all legitimate sicks.
"Part of our job is dealing with sick people, so we’re exposed to a lot more than other people are," he added.
Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association president Wade Ritchie agreed.
"The bugs that are there that we deal with on the infectious side of things, definitely is increasing over these last few years," Ritchie said, adding: "There’s no doubt that our job is a stressful job."
Ritchie said the sick time numbers are an "obvious concern" that should be addressed by both labour and management.
He said the attendance management program is a good start, but also sees a potential downside to the initiative.
"It’s a very fine line. It’s a dicey area because now you’re getting into privacy issues," Ritchie said. "How much … is an individual allowed to dig into somebody else’s private life?"
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 8, 2013