If a nurse at Rhode Island Hospital seems a little bit under the weather, it may be because they were afraid to call in sick. Doing that too often at the Lifespan-owned hospital can cost employees their job, per a revised employee policy hospital employees’ unions strongly oppose.
“In no way are these policies intended to force employees to work while they are ill,” said Lifespan spokesman David Levesque, confirming the policy. “Employees reporting to work when they are sick would negatively impact job performance and is not in the best interest of patient care or a safe and healthy work environment.”
But he confirmed that if Lifespan employees have 11 non-consecutive unexpected absences, they can be fired.
“Lifespan believes the updated policy is fair and reasonable, and in-line with other hospitals and health systems,” he said. “As a healthcare organization, our primary responsibility is to care for patients in a safe and efficient manner, which requires a measure of predictability and reliability in staffing that may not impact other industries to the same extent.”
The two unions that represent Rhode Island Hospital employees disagree. United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) Local 5098 and Teamsters Local 251 organized a picket in front of Rhode Island’s largest hospital for Wednesday from 2 to 4:30.
“When you or a loved one are sick, the last thing you want at the bedside is a nurse or health professional who is not at their best,” said Helene Macedo, RN, an operating room nurse and president of UNAP Local 5098 in a press release. “It’s no secret that those of us who work in hospitals are routinely exposed to any number of afflictions, and many times we do fight through it, but at some point it becomes counter-productive and unsafe to be caring for a patient when you are in need of rest or medical care.”
She Macedo, “Lifespan management should know better. This policy shift shows how out of touch they are with people who are ‘delivering health with care.’ We urge them to work with leaders from both unions and develop a policy that respects the commitment and sacrifice of all our members.”
Levesque, the Lifespan spokesman said the policy is not new but it was recently updated. Under the old policy, several consecutive unexpected absences would be counted as one occurrence, under the new policy each day missed is counted as an occurrence. Under the updated policy, the first time an employee takes multiple consecutive sick days will only counts as one occurrence.
“The reality is that disciplinary actions would not start (and then only with a warning) until between 7 and 11 days of unplanned sick time,” he said. “This policy calls for progressive discipline, in which the employee would have ample warning of his or her unsatisfactory attendance record.”
He shared this list describing the new policy:
- The first time an employee takes multiple consecutive sick days it only counts as one occurrence.
- Planned absences, such as doctor’s appointments and outpatient procedures, do not count as an occurrence.
- Unplanned absences of six or more days trigger a short-term leave application which, if approved, does not count as an occurrence.
- Absence related to chronic or long-term illness is protected under FMLA.
- Short-term leaves are available
- Employees are provided a generous bank of vacation time, as well as sick time, to use when needed
UNAP represents about 2,200 nurses, technologists, therapists and other allied health professionals at RIH. The Teamsters represent about 2,300 workers who are CNAs, maintenance and clerical staff. Neither union is currently involved in contract negotiations.
Hospital staff also spoke about boycotting the popular cafeteria at Rhode Island Hospital to make a stronger point about their disagreement with the updated policy.
Levesque said he didn’t think management would revisit the policy, despite organizing by the unions. “This isn’t something that was done lightly,” he said, noting that the hospital has been communicating with the union on the revised policy for more than a year. “We have to ensure our staff is there for our patients.”
Bill DeWare, a technician at Rhode Island Hospital and the secretary of the RI Progressive Democrats, wrote about the issue earlier this month.