This appears to be the intention of the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, if we are to believe some of the guidelines made public last August in its Cadre de référence sur le soutien et la réintégration au travail.

The publication emphasizes the importance of encouraging employees to play an active role in reintegrating the workplace. The concept is clearly defined: employees must analyze and assess their own situation, take ownership of their plan to reintegrate work, and be motivated by reaching objectives with their employer!

In short, your physician tells you you’re sick, but your employer says you’re healthy as a horse! And instead of a treatment plan to get you back on your feet, you should formulate your own plan to reintegrate work!

A truly bad strategy

The idea stems from a well-known problem: too many employees on medical leave. Yet, there is reason to believe that the situation is the direct result of working conditions in the health network, which have significantly deteriorated since the Barrette reform.

Sonia Éthier

“Now, rather than address the source of the problem, employers want to solve it by getting employees back to work quickly. This seems to be the goal of the plan that employers are required to implement by December 2018, according to a clear order from the ministry. Sick employees can no longer focus solely on their recovery… That takes some doing!” says Sonia Éthier1.

Disturbing abuses within sight

Concretely, this means that, as of now, managers of employees on medical leave will need to contact them regularly, request their participation in analyzing and assessing their medical situation, as well as determining solutions, maintain frequent contact with the treating physician, etc.

“This is far from what any sick employee should be making their priority, that is, to regain their health! Furthermore, this also discounts the importance of doctor-patient confidentiality. Though the employer may have a right to monitor certain aspects of an employee’s recovery, their interference in the therapeutic relationship goes much too far,” she says.

This strategy is consistent with a new wave of management thinking in which employees are entirely responsible for everything that happens to them.

“Following this train of thought, if one is sick, it’s because they were unable to adapt to their new work environment. Therefore, the problem is not due to the organization of work, but rather to the employee’s inability to meet the new requirements. This is utter nonsense as studies continue to show that difficulties experienced in the workplace are the result of a lack of resources and poor organization of work. It is never a question of individual problems,” she says.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Although the framework does not bode well, it does contain a few good ideas and intentions that should be acknowledged: to seek the permisison of the patient before contacting them, to make sure the workplace allows for a successful reintegration after an illness, to obtain the collaboration of several key players, and to meet with the employee’s colleagues to examine the distribution of tasks.

The problem is that the framework is part of a greater plan with a clear objective: to reduce costs and do everything to get employees back to work faster, even if it means ignoring their fundamental rights, or worse, harassing them to achieve this goal…

Furthermore, with such guidelines at their disposal, employers will be able to choose approaches that suit them best and design their own strategies. It’s clear that in areas where employers are not amenable to collaboration, some abuse will occur…

For all of these reasons, CSQ unions will take necessary action at every level to ensure the rights of employees on disability are respected.

“We will be following this issue very closely. The CSQ will not stand by and watch in the face of such affronts to our fundamental rights,” concludes the union leader.

1   Sonia Éthier is vice-president of the CSQ.