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HR POLICIES & PRACTICES
Jan 14, 2014

HR in the news

Could ‘bossnapping’ happen here? Employers insisting on doctor’s notes
    

By Brian Kreissl

Like many people, I have been following a couple of HR-related stories in the news lately — bossnapping and the issue of doctor’s notes. While both stories are worth commenting on, I didn’t think I would be able to devote an entire blog post to either of them.

Could ‘bossnapping’ happen in Canada?

I am sure most of you are aware of the recent “bossnapping” incident at the Goodyear Tire plant in Amiens, France. In an attempt to secure better terms and conditions for about 1,000 workers scheduled to lose their jobs due to the plant’s closure, trade unionists held two executives — an HR director and a production director — for more than 24 hours before releasing them.

While this incident was shocking to many people — especially given that the police did nothing to stop it and many members of the public in France seemed to support the union — it isn’t the first case of “bossnapping” in France or elsewhere in recent years. Similar incidents have also happened elsewhere in France at companies like Sony, Caterpillar, 3M and Hewlett-Packard.

However, I don’t believe that type of thing is very likely to happen in Canada. Our workers simply aren’t as militant as they can be in some parts of the world.

And there would no doubt be a ton of criminal and civil sanctions that would be levelled against the workers and any union involved if it happened here. (Nevertheless, according to some news reports, Goodyear has now filed a lawsuit as a result of the incident.)

While most people can sympathize with workers who are losing their jobs, public opinion here most certainly wouldn’t be on the side of workers who hold their bosses hostage for better severance packages. I’m not sure if that’s because we’re less sympathetic to the plight of workers, more respectful of our institutions and employers, or simply have a greater concern for law and order.

I believe the law in Canada is pretty fair when it comes to common law reasonable notice requirements and obligations placed on employers with respect to statutory termination and severance pay. While the law is definitely more generous in other countries — most notably many European countries — the truth is an employer in Canada can be obligated to provide notice (or pay in lieu of notice) of up to two years (or even longer in some situations) when terminating long-serving employees.

Employers’ requirements for doctor’s notes

Another recent HR-related news story is the recommendation from Scott Wooder, the president of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), that employers stop requesting doctor’s notes from employees. According to Wooder, visits to the doctor to obtain sick notes are expensive and unnecessary and expose others to people’s germs when they should be staying home and getting better.

I completely agree with Wooder that employers shouldn’t be requesting a doctor’s note for every brief absence involving the sniffles, and I also believe employers should be relaxing the requirements for sick notes amid concerns about pandemic influenza. However, it is unrealistic to expect employers to dispense with policies requiring employees to provide sick notes for absences in all cases.

The fact is a lot of organizations have serious problems with absenteeism, and, unfortunately, malingering does happen. While it’s pretty obvious many physicians simply write what their patients want them to on their sick notes, some people will at least think twice about lying to their doctors about their symptoms.

But employers should definitely consider the advice of Wooder and examine their absenteeism policies to ensure they aren’t being overly heavy-handed in requiring doctor’s notes for every brief absence — particularly for employees with satisfactory attendance records.

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Carswell's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com. For more information on Carswell's HR products visit www.carswell.com.  

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