Tuesday, January 23, 2018

BC Health Authority mismanagement of long term strategy

In this article the Vancouver Sun identifies a looming problem. Specifically our province seems to face an imminent physician shortage. I suspect the reader would agree that they have not recently had an experience which suggests that we currently have enough physicians, or that their services are available more or less on demand. Here are some bullet points to consider, I have no statistics for you and speak only from personal experience:
  • Health authorities are constantly looking to decrease doctors' pay.
  • Any time physician compensation issue arise, it is never in the nature of 'maybe we should change our approach, which is antiquated and wasteful.'
  • Also, it is important to note that it is almost never doctors saying 'we demand more' but rather doctors reacting to health authority actions and saying 'please do not give us less.'
  • The doctors (who I feel compelled to emphasize are the people charged with the task of saving our lives) draw very little public support when such an argument becomes public. See the comments sections on any physician compensation news story if you do not believe me.
See my recent article on that latter topic for more. Often doctors are thought of as rich people whereas empirical evidence does not bear out that stereotype. Here is a breakdown suggesting that what doctors make is hard to know, but is likely not higher than $225,000 on average in Canada. That sounds like a pretty good wage, and it is, but a Rockefeller it does not make.

Just using rough hypothetical numbers, assuming we all make our decision about our career path at age 20 and we all retire at age 65, and assuming doctors go to school for ten years, the wage set out above is far less appealing. In order to get there, you start working at age 30, having missed a good portion of your best working years and with a massive student debt. Conversely, if you had taken a well-paid job requiring less or no education, you may well have bought a house and accumulated some serious equity by age 30. Further, if $225,000 is the average, it is fair to assume that the average entry level physician earns less.

Add to this factors like long hours, labyrinthian bureaucracy and constantly facing downward pressure on your earnings from the only employer for whom you can work (let us recall it is a single payer system).

Further, and again to invoke my previous article, Justin Trudeau seems bent on taking even more away from our doctors. I will pause to note the inherent irony in this. You plan to pay doctors less in an effort to collect taxes geared toward (among other things) the creation of a better health care system.

Two general principles I think people could agree upon in principle are as follows:
  1. Attracting and retaining more and better doctors is desirable.
  2. Key to attracting and retaining people generally to any job is treating them well.
I see this problem as a reflection of the perennial tension between politicians with short term appointments and a burning desire to save money versus the need to make plans for both the present and the future.

I encourage any readers to consider my paradigm. Doctors are highly-educated, hard-working life savers. They are financially comfortable as a group, but not rich as a rule. Even if they were rich, however, I think that would be fair given the job they do. I do not support downward pressure on their remuneration. Like many other professions (teachers come to mind) I feel as though these public jobs are invaluable to us. If anything they should pay better.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Saskatchewan's most-ironic approach to "saving money"

Previously I have written articles criticizing those who express outrage when the government honours its contractual severance obligations. Such opinions can be found here and here, for example. My view remains as it is set out in those prior posts.

This is different.

Today's article in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix suggests that the newly-formed Saskatchewan Health Authority has already paid more than $4 million dollars in severance, and is not clear at all how much more it will have to pay.

This is particularly offensive given that the amalgamation was premised on attempting to save money. For a few thousand dollars worth of my advice, the province could have saved the $4 million which it has instead chosen to waste.

Saskatchewan's taxpayers should be outraged.

Please contact an employment lawyer before firing anyone. Our advice will pay for itself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

NFL Gender Gap - A Disgrace

The National Football League gives me such a robust body of material about which to write, as an employment lawyer, that it is kind of breathtaking.

Or maybe I am just a little bit obsessed.

Either way.

Cam Newton recently, and unfortunately, scoffed at a reporter (who happened to be female, which I only mention because her gender is relevant to the tale I tell) when she asked him a question about routes. Mr. Newton, who routinely connects on such routes with receivers who were ushered through college despite not working and not learning, not to mention some criminals, was surprised that a woman understood the concept of a 'route.' I mean you've got your uneducated criminals on the one hand, but she's a woman. You see Cam's point, right? If yes: hello Donald Trump Jr., can't say I've missed you during the ten minutes since your last tweet.


But at least she was not Cam's employee, or worse still denied employment due to his ignorance.
Enter the NFL.

In two ways that I will delineate today (and several others I do not propose to mention), the NFL fails in delivering on what I would call its obligation to be a progressive member of society, specifically with respect to gender rights. This obligation derives from its prominence and the fact that it will clearly impact millions via its actions leaving us only to hope those actions are principled and virtuous.

First, cheerleaders are not paid. If you could find a way to more clearly state your stone-age leanings, than getting hundreds of young women to dress and dance provocatively every week with a view to profit but refuse to pay them, then: hello Snoop Dogg, I am ashamed to admit I like some of your songs.

Second, why are there no female announcers? This is on networks too but the NFL could help and would improve its image by doing so.

And yes, I have watched Pam Oliver, Michelle Tafoya and others reporting, but this makes my point. These women, with actual credentials and (I'm just guessing) who have to work twice as hard as their more prominent male counterparts to get where they are have been literally sidelined. They report from the sidelines alone.

Many of the male commentators' credentials seem to be that they either played or have generally been around football. Based on nothing more, they receive fat paychecks [sic: paycheques] for making stupid comments. Matt Millen comes to mind, Tony Siragusa comes to mind ... Remember that thing where Terry Bradshaw was against black quarterbacks? I love the game but honestly I have to mute my television sometimes the problem is so bad. Meanwhile, in a country of over 300 million people I hazard a guess that there is more than one rabid football fan who is well spoken whose insights and opinions I would love to hear more of and yet who is in possession of an extra 'x' chromosome.

In fact, my inspiration for this blog post came from Lindsay Jones' appearance on Bill Barnwell's podcast summarizing week 5 NFL action. Ms. Jones made a comment about some man telling her he didn't like listening to female voices, and then she forever won my heart by telling a hilarious anecdote about what a jerk Jay Cutler is (in addition to being a dreadful quarterback making $10 million this year playing for the Miami Dolphins and thus guaranteeing they will not win the Superbowl).

Society needs to do better and the NFL needs to lead by example. To do less is disgraceful.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Harvey Weinstein - Let's Call it Like it is

The New York Times broke a story about Harvey Weinstein and his decades of sexual misconduct at work.

Here is what Forbes had to say about the scandal.

The Weinstein company board released a statement Sunday, which read in part:

"In light of new information about misconduct by Harvey Weinstein that has emerged in the past few days, the directors of The Weinstein Company have determined, and have informed Harvey Weinstein, that his employment with The Weinstein Company is terminated, effective immediately," [underlining my own]

What was this 'new information?' well, for one thing it was in fact quite old information, allegedly newly discovered. More than a decade ago Weinstein is alleged to have masturbated in front of a female reporter. If this were an isolated incident it would be denied, and most likely privately settled.

But it is not isolated, and that is kind of the point.

Weinstein is alleged to have reached settlements in a host of other allegations at least a portion of which is said to be documented within his companies: Miramax and the Weinstein Company.
The Board knew. Right now it is scrambling to control the fallout, part of which is masquerading as champions of gender equality. Their strategy appears to include pretending it was the new information that prompted Weinstein's firing. In fact, such misconduct was well documented over the years and known to the controlling minds within the company.

Weinstein was fired due to bad press, not the board of the company caring about gender rights in the workplace.

If this were in Canada, I would proudly represent any survivors of Weinstein's workplace misconduct.
If Mr. Weinstein were to call me with this high-profile case which could boost my profile, I would tell him he was fired for just cause and I cannot help him.

People should take sexual harassment in the workplace more seriously. Most particularly my comment is aimed at politicians and adjudicative bodies, but all members of the public should heed my words if we truly want to foster harmonious and respectful working environments in this country. I do, and I will happily tilt at this windmill now and in the future.

Weinsteins of British Columbia be warned.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Going to bat for physicians (and why Justin should too)

Once again, I find myself posting on a topic that pits my emotions against my professional instincts. I voted for Justin Trudeau in the last election for reasons I do not intend to get into in this article, but broadly speaking I thought he could make Canada better even while knowing I was going to have to pay more. Halfway through his mandate, I am still evaluating whether he is delivering and have by no means made up my mind regarding where my vote will go in the next Federal election. I provide the foregoing synopsis only to lend credibility to the idea that I am not simply protesting tax reform that hurt me. I am one of the few suckers who is ready to pay more if it means moving our country forward.

Please believe then, that this article is not about personal interest. It is about respect for our doctors, something I think is woefully absent in a lot of media coverage. Mr. Trudeau recently chose to invoke a ridiculous and unfounded populist stereotype about doctors to justify his position on tax reform. Herein, I decry the stereotype. Tax reform is a personal issue for me, whereas going to bat for doctors is a large part of the job I do.

In a recent parliamentary debate, Andrew Scheer pressed Justin Trudeau on tax reform.A good summary of the exchange can be found here. This took on a predictable tone very quickly with Scheer attempting to cite a sympathetic example of how the reforms would impact Canada. He chose the mechanic.

Well played Mr. Scheer. Everyone can get behind mechanics because the public perception is that they are not rich.

Also predictably, Mr. Trudeau went with what he thought was an unsympathetic counter-example. He chose a doctor.

I would say 'well played Mr. Trudeau' if his goal was to pander to populist nonsense without reference to facts. I hope that was not our leader's intent, here too I reserve my judgment.

The public would do well to disabuse themselves of this notion that doctors are invariably rich. In fact, doctors in Canada face a very difficult working environment. The majority of them are employed by bureaucratic health authorities with mandates to trim their bloated budgets. Often this translates into, to cite a hypothetical example, finding a group of 90 doctors and short-changing each of them by $25,000. $2,250,000 saved and the public loves it, not a bad day at work.

But put yourself in the shoes of one of these doctors. You have mortgage payments, student loans to repay, kids in school etc. You have planned for these expenses based on the status quo and now you have to conjur the means to support yourself with less or to forego some of the privileges associated with being an educated professional in a wealthy nation. Understand further that the doctors in this example do not have options that are available to most employees whose employer chooses to act unfairly. Often they cannot quit or even take job action without risking lives. Meanwhile (and unlike virtually any other working Canadian) there is usually no other employer and especially not one who will treat them better. The health authority is, without many realistic exceptions, the only potential employer for any doctor who does not wish to move to a new city altogether. Even with a move, the physician is likely to find that the health authority in the new locale bears more similarities to the old employer than differences.

Tevlin Gleadle Curtis Employment Law Strategies acts for physicians and physician groups in a number of matters including contract negotiations and workplace disputes. I have had a number of fights with a number of health authorities across Canada. They do not act very differently in my experience.

Here is where it gets particularly nasty. In any substantial fight against a health authority the public seems to line up against the doctors every time. The focus of their anger appears to always center around what kind of car the doctor drives, or how nice their house happens to be.
To anyone reading this who holds that view, I would like to ask: would it not be fundamentally wrong if we lived in a country where a doctor does not have a nice house? Would that not place us closer to the North Korea end of the spectrum than we wish to be? I have yet to see an article about a doctor with a yacht or a private jet, because that is not the kind of money we are discussing. Doctors tend to be stable, but not wildly rich.

From the link above, Mr. Trudeau's words were "Mr. Speaker, the member opposite, and indeed the entire opposition, has been going around the country, telling every doctor that they meet that they stand with them[.]"

Justin: think carefully about how to follow that up. You just said your opposition supports our doctors, a group who I would posit might be behind only the military in terms of deserving the country's united support. They deliver our babies, cure our parents of cancer and ensure proper palliative care for us when there are no better options.

Justin continued: "That they will defend their rights to pay lower taxes than nurses that work alongside those doctors," Trudeau continued. "We don't think that's fair."

Swing and a miss Mr. Trudeau. At least for this voting taxpayer.

First of all, I do not for a second believe that doctors are habitually paying less tax than nurses.
I would also be remiss if I did not comment upon the irony that physicians' employers (who are after all essentially governmental arms) are constantly chipping away at how much they will pay in the first instance. So these doctors are being asked to fight a war on two fronts.

Now I do not intend to get into the rabbit hole of debating how much should everyone pay. There is plenty to read on that topic written by people better-versed in it than I. Generally it strikes me as fair that those who earn more should pay more and from personal experience my impression is that that happens in this country. Despite the best tax advice money can buy, I can assure you that I am in a position where I pay more tax in a given year than a nurse likely does.

But again, this article is not about me, and realistically not about tax. My problem with Mr. Trudeau's words is that our leader has disrespected our doctors. Shame on him.

In my work I have met a lot of doctors often in very tough situations. My impression is almost invariably that they are hard working professionals with an astonishing commitment to healing people, often in circumstances where they are not being paid properly or sometimes at all.

Mr. Trudeau too eagerly plays into the stereotype of a well-established physician without a mortgage who does not need any more 'favours.' I have another stereotype for you Mr. Trudeau. How about a 30 year-old who has spent eight years qualifying for one of society's most important professions, working as hard as one has to in order to run the gauntlet of medical school. Our hypothetical physician recently graduated with six figures of student debt and no assets to her name. She started medical school when the deal was that the health authority will give doctors x, y and z and on that basis she has a plan to retire comfortably, but not wealthy, at age 65. Within a month of graduating the health authority for whom she is forced to work announces she gets a different deal, and it is worse. Make no mistake, I have yet to see a health authority announce a change in the nature of 'we have determined these doctors need better hours, or more pay.' No, health authorities seem to only ever take away. I say that is unfair, but in any event it is demoralizing.

That is perhaps the worst part of the situation doctors face in Canada. Most people would agree that a respectful working environment is one of the privileges one should expect in a developed nation. Too often, a health authority uses the fact that doctors have no realistic alternatives as justification for not fostering a positive working environment.

At the end of the day, if one person reads this article and re-thinks this media stereotype of a rich, greedy doctor then I will have accomplished something. But I cannot possibly offset the sweeping influence of the words our Prime Minister chooses to speak in Parliament, and I wish he would stick to facts rather than unwarranted stereotypes about physicians. The medical profession has earned (and deserves) more respect than that.

Anyone who will join me and go to bat for our doctors, please share this article. Either way, thank you for taking the time to read it.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Trump Tramples Human Rights

I am inclined to wonder what colour the sky is in Donald Trump’s world.  Please note that I generally prefer to avoid the fracas of Trump and his tweeting, but this week the leader of the free world has trampled on human rights in at least one recent comment.  More specifically, Trump would apparently laud a decision to fire someone as a result of exercising his human rights, so this is technically in my wheelhouse.  Couple that with my love of NFL football and I have to weigh in.
The facts, for those not familiar with them:

  • Colin Kaepernick is a professional football player.  He is monumentally better at football than (to cite only one example) Jay Cutler, a man who is receiving $10 million this year for making the Miami Dolphins terrible.  Kaepernick is an apparently blacklisted free agent.  Kaepernick’s unforgivable offence appears to be that he peacefully protests what he says amounts to racial inequality in the United States.  The herein article is not about that aspect of the politics, though the stance seems eminently justifiable to me. Kaepernick’s protest has spread in popularity with many players now doing the same thing (or something else similar).

  • According to at least one source, Donald Trump is a corned-beef-dirigible and world-historically stupid idiot currently tasked with leadership of the free world.  He sits at the helm of a country ostensibly in favour of internationally-recognized human rights such as freedom of political expression and gender equality.  In a past life he was in business in country where (like Canada) those human rights form an important part of most workplaces.

  • The NFL is a league that puts out an awesome product which I love, but has a host of problems.  Domestic violence and worse pervade league culture.  The league should take this problem seriously and likes to pretend it does.  Punishments are meted out in keeping only with media attention.  As such, a middling player who nobody has heard of can (and too often will) assault his wife, but a famous player has more trouble getting away with it.  Ray Rice provides a good example.  Rice was (once upon a time) one of the better backs in the game.  He was to be punished only ever so slightly for punching his then-fiancĂ©e in the face knocking her unconscious.  Then a video of the incident went viral and only because of that coverage the league decided on a harsher punishment.  Rice never took another NFL snap, but make no mistake - that was a result of the fact that he was in physical decline.  The league is full of players with deeply troubling pasts, but who can (and therefore do) still play.  Ben Roethlisberger is a prominent example.

Now that the stage is set, here is the problem.  The Trump quote I will be discussing is as follows:

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired,'"

Trump boomed these words at a recent rally where he characteristically opted for pure populist nonsense rather than anything substantive or helpful.  This was a reference to players who kneel during the anthem prior to a football game.

A small point:  “bitch” itself is a gender-based pejorative that has no place in the lexicon of a modern professional.  That is not the greater of the issues in Trump’s comment.

One other tangent I feel I must go on: there is no disrespect to the American flag in Kaepernick’s actions.  Loving your country and wanting to make it a better place are not mutually preclusive concepts.  Moreover, the anthem at sports games has only to do with fostering feeling of loyalty within the fan base.  Professional sports have nothing to do with nationalism.
But I am falling into that trap I hate so much, talking about the circus that is Trump.  I am trying to keep this about employment law (and football).

Expression of political views is a hallmark of American democracy and a globally-enshrined Human Right.  How can a so-called ‘leader’ and ‘businessman’ (for I understand Trump to call himself such, and not ‘businessperson’) make such a comment?  This would be more complex if the political view in question were controversial, but the only person who anyone actually listens to who thinks of racial equality as controversial is… well… Donald Trump.

The vast majority of inhabitants of the developed world respect racial equality.

So Kaepernick’s offence is essentially to use one human right (free expression) as a vehicle whereby to promote another (racial equality).  For this Trump would fire him.  Did I mention Kaepernick is particularly good at his job? In fact one could make an argument that he is one of the ten best people in the entire world at that job.  Meanwhile, you could meaningfully comment on some very serious problems with the NFL, but Trump has omitted to do so.

Shame on Donald Trump.

Go Broncos!

Boo Patriots!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Law students helping access to justice in BC

This post is intended as a piece of free publicity for the Law Students' Legal Advice Program.  This program is run through the University of British Columbia's law school.  Law students provide free advice to low income individuals on a variety of matters.  They can represent the individuals in provincial court as well as in front of a variety of administrative tribunals.

To be clear, Tevlin Gleadle Curtis takes all inquiries (provided they successfully pass our conflict checking process) and the first call is free.  It is worth calling us with any employment law issues, our lawyers will always estimate for you how likely it is that your fees will be well-spent if you hire us.  For court cases (as distinct from tribunal cases) LSLAP cannot advocate beyond the small claims jurisdiction of $25,000 so a good many claims are unfortunately outside of the realm of what LSLAP can assist with.

In one case, LSLAP won $65,000 for injury to dignity at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal - nearly matching the all-time record of $75,000.

LSLAP clients get legal advice in cases that often would not justify legal fees at market rates.

The students get experience and exposure.  While a lot of people worry about the students' presumed lack of experience, some of them are quite experienced.  Students can run several trials/hearings by the end of their studies, making them more experienced in court than some lawyers.  Moreover, in a low-value claim the defendant quite often expects a represented party to give up as a result of their inability to afford, or to justify continued legal fees.  In our view any lack of experience can be more than offset by this power dynamic, which most lawyers cannot match.

In short, it is a win-win.

The lawyers at Tevlin Gleadle Curtis support the LSLAP program both in the form of financial donations, summary advice to students on individual cases and in the capacity as supervising counsel during the conduct of small claims trials.

We hope others will share the content of this post in any way they can.  LSLAP is a valuable program and one that deserves widespread public support.