Absence policy for University of Toledo staff criticized
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 12:02
When something negatively affects staff members, Barbara Floyd believes it hurts everyone at the university.
“All of us at the university are dependent upon these people; they do vital work,” said the UT archivist and member of the Women’s Leadership Forum.
Right now, Floyd said one of those things is the staff absence policy, which she said causes unnecessary stress to workers, with an especially strong impact on women.
The policy states that if workers gather enough “points,” or sick days, they will be terminated.
Michael Dowd, president of Faculty Senate and chair of the economics department, said he believes the policy is not only unfair to workers, but also does not promote wellness.
Dowd and the WLF said the policy is especially unfair to mothers and wives because social norms call for women to serve as “caretakers.”
“We are responsible, not only for our own health, but for the health care of our children, increasingly the healthcare of our elderly parents, our spouses. These are our responsibilities because that’s what society expects of us,” Floyd said.
Kevin West, UT senior human resources officer, said he believes the policy is fair.
“There’s no statistical significance that would show that there’s any kind of gender bias and/or gender discrimination based on the application of the policy,” West said.
The maximum number of points a member of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union can accumulate before termination is 16; the total for members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is 12.
Points are accrued if a worker takes a sick day or takes more than two unscheduled hours off at one time.
The CWA covers the secretaries and maintenance workers of the main campus, while AFSCME covers the health science campus.
Workers can obtain an exemption to this limit if they file for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which must be certified by a doctor. An FMLA exemption only applies for chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or cancer, and only applies for that specific chronic illness, not general sick leaves.
Even if a worker does not obtain a FMLA leave, these points are not necessarily permanent. If no points are accumulated for 90 days, then the last point accumulated is dropped. Also, points are ‘rolled off’ one year after they are first obtained.
“They don’t really disappear, but they can’t be held against them for disciplinary purposes,” said Lyndell Gowing, white-collar unit director for the CWA.
Gowing said the CWA has never had a termination on this point system.
Floyd presented a report to Faculty Senate last semester describing anonymous examples of those affected by the policy, as well as alleging unfairness towards woman specifically.
“The WLF believes this sick policy is an example of an institutional policy that applies equally to all, but its unintended consequence is that it makes the University of Toledo a female-unfriendly place to work,” the paper states.
For example, Floyd said, parents with children in daycare may have no choice about whether to stay home.
“[Daycares are] breeding grounds for all kinds of colds and flus and earaches and pinkeye and you name it, it gets passed around,” Floyd said. “If a kid is sick in daycare, they call and they say you have to come get this kid now. It’s not an option; you have to do it.”
Dowd said he believes this policy is encouraging staff to come into work when they are sick, especially if they are at the end of their points.
“They’re afraid for their jobs. Simply for taking care of their families, they’re afraid they’re going to lose their job,” Dowd said.
“The university’s mission is to improve the human condition; how did this policy improve the human condition?” asked Dowd, who presented the report to the Board of Trustees in December on behalf of Faculty Senate.
West said the policy is in place to prevent workers from abusing their sick time, making it so that they will not be tempted to call in sick for reasons other than actual illness, thus creating more stress for the workers who did come in.
“If one person is gone, and there’s the people that actually came to work that day, and them picking up that extra work, and that’s increasingly stressful on those people,” West said. “So you look at what happens on the hospital side; if a nurse doesn’t show up for work and you got to call and find another nurse to take that shift, or the rest of the staff is picking up those duties and responsibilities. It’s a lot of work and stressful.”
Besides Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees, the report has been presented to the provost, the president and the human resources department. West said the university is willing to discuss options.
“I think that we’re open to options; we’re open to discussion with the union leadership about this policy,” West said, “but I think we’re also interested in options that appropriately balance their need or desire to change this policy with our need to effectively manage the institution.”