From employee termination to an updated attendance support policy, the City of Brandon is cracking down on sick time abuse.
Since 2011, total sick time across the organization has been reduced by approximately 12 per cent. In some departments, it has been cut by more than 30 per cent in 2013 compared to 2012.
"We were in a bad state," city manager Scott Hildebrand said. "And we needed to make sure that people understood that regular attendance and consistent punctuality are critical to our effectiveness at the city and our business operations."
Hildebrand presented the sick time statistics to city council recently, which prompted a question from Coun. John LoRegio (Meadows).
"I guess there’s no diplomatic way to put this … was there abuse in the past? Has that been cut down? Or … all of a sudden, did our staff get really healthy?" LoRegio said.
To that, Hildebrand responded by saying he always tries to see the "best in everyone," but as in any organization there will always be a "small percentage that work the system."
"We’ve taken those things extremely seriously and we’ve dealt with some," Hildebrand said. "I think people understand our expectations and we’ll continue to deal with it accordingly."
Hildebrand confirmed that in the past few years, two employees were terminated for abuse of sick time. He wouldn’t say which departments they worked in.
Hildebrand took on the role of city manager in 2011, and said he realized right away that something needed to be done to tackle the amount of sick time being used.
"(It) was significantly higher than I was used to seeing in private business," said Hildebrand, who was previously the general manager and vice-president of sales with McKenzie Seeds. "So we started digging into that."
Hildebrand said about 40 hours in sick time per person annually is sensible.
In mid-2011, the attendance support policy was updated. The city now runs sick time statistics on a quarterly basis. Guidelines are given to department heads at the beginning of the year, as well as expected averages.
"When that data comes in, the department heads simply understand what the average is and see who’s trending above or below that average," Hildebrand said.
Many times, this will bring about positive feedback for those who are below the average number of sick hours. But for staff members trending above average, there is a protocol in place for what steps the organization will take.
"We follow up with typically just a one-on-one meeting to find out if there’s any personal issues or concerns," Hildebrand said. "We find out how we can help them to potentially curb their attendance patterns, and in some cases have to follow up in writing."
Hildebrand noted that sick time does not only mean days off due to the flu or a cold. Surgery recovery, long-term illness and Workplace Compensation incidents/ injuries are also included. Staff may also be using the time to be with an ill family member.
"We work with our employees, but our goal here is that we’re cracking down on the calling in sick on Fridays and calling in sick on Mondays," he said. "I’m very proud of our results … we’re trimming in the right direction."
The quarterly followups have been a positive move, and Hildebrand said it’s part of their routine now.
"So people know that we’re watching," he said. "We’re not watching to punish people, we’re watching because it’s in the best interest of the city and people understand that now. I think just added focus, added attention brings along the behaviour that we’re looking for. And at the end of the day, we want our staff at work."
One department that was of particular concern last year was Brandon Fire and Emergency Services. The amount of sick time per employee in that department was an average of 132 hours in 2012. That was more than double the average (52 hours) of all city departments.
That number was down considerably in 2013 — around 90 hours.
"I was very concerned about that, but it’s moving in the right direction," Hildebrand said. "They’re still slightly ahead of average, but significantly down … by over 30 per cent. So we still got some work to do there I would think, but they’re definitely going in the right direction."
The largest union at the City of Brandon is the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 69 which has roughly 300 members.
CUPE Local 69 president Val McArthur said as a union they don’t want sick time abuse, as it affects benefits. Overall, the union is happy with the way the city is tackling sick time.
"I don’t believe that it hurts to meet with employees … to monitor or to see how their well-being is," she said. "A good employer will check to see how an employee’s doing, if there’s anything they can do to assist or … sometimes accommodate."
Brandon Police Association president Kevin Loewen said the updated attendance policy hasn’t really had an impact on the department.
"The police service has been pretty diligent in making sure we get to work and we haven’t been an over-user of the sick time in a long, long time," he said.
The average number of sick time hours went up slightly in the police department.
In 2013, the number was roughly 75, compared to about 68 in 2012.
Loewen said due to the nature of the job, there may be times when police officers have to use larger amounts of sick time.
"We are unfortunately exposed to ill people on a regular basis and we can’t avoid that," he said. "You assist people or in some cases you … arrest some people who may in fact have some type of an illness whether it’s a cold or something more serious that you may catch.
"There’s nothing that a policy or any amount of safeguards is going to change about that."