Keep last names off health workers’ name tags, a Saskatchewan labour board has ruled.
In December, a labour arbitration board sided with a union representing health care employees when it ruled that including last names on name tags violated the privacy and safety of employees.
“It overstepped the privacy and it did in times put staff at risk,” CUPE Local 5111 president Brian Manegre told the Toronto Star.
The policy was implemented in 2012 by Prairie North Health Region as part of a “patient first” philosophy, but did not consult with the union first or do a risk assessment, the board heard.
The local health authority oversees health care in the northwestern part of central Saskatchewan, and employs more than 3,300 people, according to its website, although not all of them are represented by CUPE Local 5111.
Patients like to know who is taking care of them, and need to be able to identify health-care workers in case of a complaint, the health authority reasoned in its arguments to the board.
A representative from Prairie North Health Region could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
But a number of employees disagreed, saying they were concerned that identifying themselves by full name could make it easier for violent patients to reach them at home, which prompted the union to get involved.
“After a full day on the front line dealing with angry, irate patients . . . we could look forward to leaving our work places, and going to the safe haven of our homes with our families,” wrote Denise Fortin, a unit clerk at a local hospital, in a letter to the health authority’s privacy officer.
“The name tag policy has not only put us at an increased risk BUT also our loved ones, our spouses, children and grandchildren.”
Another employee, whose name was redacted in the ruling, described a particularly chilling incident in which a 93-year-old patient’s son threatened her life after his mother died.
The son looked at her name tag, repeated her first and last names, and said “you killed my mom — I won’t forget your name and I won’t forget your face,” the board heard.
A few days later, the employee’s roommate called her during her night shift to say that a man with a car was outside their home. She reported the incident to the RCMP, but not to her employer.
Manegre said that the union first took the issue up with the Prairie North Health Region, but no compromise could be reached.
The union argued that the last-name policy was overly broad, and violated both provincial labour law and the collective agreement because it put employees’ health and safety at risk. The union also argued that the policy violated provincial privacy legislation that says identifying information cannot be used without employee permission.
Despite the safety concerns expressed by employees and the union, the employer argued that requiring workers to wear name tags with their last names was reasonable, and said that there was no evidence that displaying surnames increased the likelihood of a workplace incident.
Some professional associations within the health authority supported the policy. The Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association endorses first and last names on employee name tags, as does the Saskatchewan Association of Licensed Practical Nurses.
The employer also cited a 2011 ruling by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) that required Toronto police officers to wear name tags with both their names.
But there is a world of difference between being a police officer and working in health care, the Saskatchewan labour board found.
“Unlike police work, health care work is not an inherently risky profession. While there is some risk, people do not become health care providers with the knowledge and expectation that they are entering a dangerous profession,” the board found.
Furthermore, the Toronto Police Service conducted a risk assessment before implementing the policy.
Without a risk assessment, and without express permission by the employee to use surnames, the Saskatchewan labour board found that name tags violated workers’ privacy and could put them in harm’s way.
“The policy has intruded on employee privacy by forcing the disclosure of their last name to patients and family members without their permission, creating unease about their vulnerability outside the workplace,” the board wrote in its decision.
“While the harm from the policy may not be substantial, the Employer has failed to provide convincing evidence in support of the policy’s benefits.”