President of the Yukon Employees’ Union, Steve Geick, speaks at a press conference for Many Rivers in Whitehorse on Dec. 18. A decision made by the Yukon’s public services commissioner in December could be precedent-setting, according to Geick. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

So long solo shifts: group home workers to no longer work alone

According to the union, the decision was made by the Yukon’s public services commissioner

A decision made by the Yukon’s public services commissioner in December could be precedent-setting, according to Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees Union.

Commissioner Pamela Muir released a decision that employees at Whitehorse youth group homes can no longer be made to work alone. There must be at least two staff on duty at any time.

Geick said the practice of having only one employee on is something the union has been actively opposed to since 2015, when there was a rash of workers’ compensation board claims by youth group home workers.

“The kids in these houses are suffering from many different things, and whether traumatic or not, cases have arisen where two kids get into a fight or one gets into a fight with a staff member,” he said.

Often, this happened during night shifts.

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Heath and Safety Board, as well as the Yukon Department of Health and Social Services, have investigated the issue twice in the years since.

Both made recommendations that staff not work alone.

In January 2018, the YEU filed a policy grievance about the continued practice of employees being made to work alone.

Geick said that while there has been much done in recent years to guard against the practice, the one area that hasn’t shown much improvement is in the event of backfilling.

He said if someone calls in sick, or there is an unexpected absence, the gaps in staffing are not always filled.

From February to October 2018, he said, 215 shifts (some of which may have only been partial shifts) were unfilled. Most of these were at night, he said.

With Muir’s decision, the entire list of potential employees must be contacted in the event of a sick day or absence, even if that means accumulating overtime hours.

He doesn’t know if this decision means there will be additional group home hires, but said there are about 40 auxiliary on-call workers right now.

He thinks the decision could be extended to other areas where employees often find themselves alone on a shift, including nursing in the communities and within family and children’s services.

No one from health and social services was available to comment before press time.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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