On the Bill Kelly show the other day, city manager Chris Murray was on air to discuss absenteeism rates for city employees and what is being done to combat it. Bill estimated that approximately 11 million dollars of taxpayer dollars are lost annually due to sick days being consumed by city employees. Bill further added that when someone calls in sick and the nature of that person's work cannot go unattended, overtime is a means to bridge the absence, thereby further driving up costs.
Chris stated that 70% of people in the city take very few sicks days annually (we think he may have said 1-2 days, but don't hold us to it). He added that there are a minority of employees whose usage of sick days should be closely monitored, based on suspicions of possible abuse. Chris was also careful to add that noone will begrudge sick days to those who truly need them and that the majority of city employees respect the policy.
Chris added that he plans to task the city managers (moreso presumably) with this matter and will hold managers accountable to drive down levels of absenteeism. He also stated that there is a common understanding throughout the organization, from union leaders that the city has spoken to, to others, that sick time, when abused, must be taken seriously and abusers must be held to account. He added that certain patterns may be indicative of sick days abuse (for example, taking a sick day just before or after a long weekend). It was also acknowledged that the nature of some types of work, are more prone to risk of injury, thus causing sick days to be needed. Chris also said that compared to other municipalities in southern Ontario, Hamilton is not the best nor the worst when it comes to absenteeism rates. Chris said that we fall in the middle.
The Hamiltonian had a recollection that in roughly in January 2010, the city hired two employees at roughly a cost of $206,000.00 to grapple with absenteeism. We're not sure what results have been had so we decided to direct a question to the city manager. Mr. Murray kindly had Helen Hale Tomasik Executive Director, Human Resources reply to the question. Here it is:
Q. We (The Hamiltonian) have a recollection that roughly in January 2010, the city hired two employees at roughly a cost of $206,000.00 to grapple with absenteeism. Are these workers still doing this role and do you have a sense of what results have been achieved by virtue of these positions?
A. Council did approve the addition of two Human Resources positions in 2010 to help ensure that employee absences are dealt with appropriately and effectively to lessen the amount of time an employee is away from work.
The Return to Work Services Assistant position was filled in September 2010. The position of Occupational Health Nurse was filled at the end of November 2010. The Occupational Health Nurse position is temporary for 3 years at which time it will be evaluated with respect to the impact on absenteeism and other measures.
The support from the two positions has allowed Human Resources to spend more time managing employee occupational and non-occupational illnesses and injuries and providing training, information and assistance to individual departments. The Occupational Health Nurse position also provides new, important expertise that is directed to both managing absences and enhancing our occupational health programming.
It is still fairly early to try and judge the impact of the two positions on our overall efforts to reduce the amount of time employees are off work. Certainly, a little over a year in, they have made an impact in the day to day management of employee absences and have allowed us to begin providing much needed support and training on disability management to our supervisors and managers. We have also been able to introduce occupational health services including in-house influenza immunization, health screening, infection control and occupational health exposure surveillance which all contribute to the health and well-being of our employees.
These additional staff are integral to the actions outlined in the Management Action Plan to reduce absenteeism by no less than 10% by the end of 2014.
Helen Hale Tomasik
Executive Director, Human Resources.
Thanks Helen and Chris for the information.
Your thoughts and comments? Do you believe that this rate of absenteeism is to be expected of a municipality this large and are you comforted by the fact that we are not the best but not the worst either, and that the matter is being managed appropriately? Or do you believe that the absenteeism rate is unacceptable and more needs to be done?