Arbitrator deems name tag policy to be unlawful

13 Feb

On December 11th of last year, arbitrator Allen Ponak held that a policy requiring health care workers to wear name tags bearing a photo and their full name was unlawful. 

The policy applied to licensed practical nurses and health care aides among others. The employer implemented the policy to support “respect and accountability” in service delivery and to “equalize the power between patient and caregivers.” Mr Ponak explained, “Employees know all about patients; by providing last names patients now have some knowledge about their caregivers.”

Mr. Ponak accepted the employer’s objective as legitimate, but his decision rested significantly on the employer’s failure to “offer any objective evidence to support the proposition that making it easy for patients and family members to know the full name of the caregivers improved the delivery of healthcare or the patient experience.” Mr. Ponak, did not consider whether the name tag policy had an important symbolic benefit, though it does not appear the employer raised such an argument.

The employer’s “weak justification” did not outweigh the impact of the policy on employees, which Mr. Ponak acknowledged was not substantial. He therefore held the policy was unreasonable and implemented in breach of the collective agreement. 

More concerning is Mr. Ponak’s finding that the policy breached the Saskatchewan Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act despite an authorizing provision that invites deference to a head’s judgement on disclosures made in the name of the public interest and another authorizing provision thats purpose is to foster public service accountability. Mr. Ponak did note that the employer did not argue these provisions.

Neither side presented “objective evidence” to support its position, making this a difficult and important contest of principle about workplace norms. Other arbitrators could go the other way. Also, appeal to empirical evidence linking positive patient perceptions to the disclosure of provider indentities should push the balance in employers’ favour. 

Prairie North Health Region v Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 5111, 2015 CanLII 85338 (SK LA).

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