Monday, May 14, 2018

Racist Rant Results in Well-Deserved Firing

The video has been making the rounds of the internet, but you can watch it here if you missed it. It is a horrible spectre, but I forced myself through it once, and only once, in order to issue my commentary. Essentially a woman verbally berated some patrons of a Denny's restaurant in a shockingly un-Canadian racist diatribe. This is somewhat ironic, given that the spirit of the rant was about how she (the berator) was a true Canadian.

This took place after-hours, and in fact took place in Alberta, whereas the individual in question was an employee of Cranbrook Dodge - in eastern British Columbia. She was neither working nor was it apparent where she might work - at least from anything I could see in the video.

This was the only decision the employer could make, and I say this for a variety of reasons.
I am fairly confident that most judges would see this as just cause for termination. I reserve only a small amount of doubt because judges have been known to do shocking things from time to time. But even if the company were scared that this woman would sue for wrongful dismissal, surely the potential business losses would have to outweigh that concern in any event. If I knew where this individual worked, I am confident I would avoid her workplace. Conversely, the act of firing her has earned my respect. I am still unlikely to buy a Dodge from a dealership located nearly a thousand kilometers from my home, but were I considering doing so I would certainly keep this dealership in mind.

There may be a small contingent of the population who do not share my views. Fortunately, they seem to be outnumbered by employers who do share my perspective. I would not have an individual like this as an employee. If forced to terminate an employee in similar circumstances I would be comfortable with any prospective judicial outcome flowing from my decision, much as I would be aware that (as with every case) no legal outcome is ever guaranteed to obtain.

Nothing in this article, or anywhere in my social media writings should be construed as legal advice.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Starbucks does something really good. Too bad it was motivated by something really bad

Watch the video.

The Globe and Mail reports that two black men were taken out of a Starbucks by police officers despite the fact that they were doing nothing wrong. This was initiated by a call to police from the manager. The manager was fired, and rightly so.

To recap, the year is 2018 and the venue is a city which featured prominently in the foundation of a country which now brands itself the world's shining beacon of freedom and equality.

In response, Starbucks has mandated the closure of 8,000 corporately-owned stores in America for an entire afternoon to undergo racial sensitivity training.

Anyone who follows my articles might see this coming, but I am a huge fan of that second piece of news. Also worth commendation: the decision of Starbucks to fire this manager, and the actions of the brave protestors who brought about this change.

Is Starbucks' response enough to end the boycott? That is not the focus or my article nor am I ready to make a prediction. Whether one good act is sufficient to offset a bad one is an inherently subjective question, and for each individual to decide for themself.

This appalling incident should never have happened, and it is a shame indeed that such training often follows such an event, rather than attempting to pre-empt it in the first place. I think any objective person who lives in this world would be forced to agree that more racial sensitivity could only be a good thing. Such is true for other human rights as well, such as gender, age and sexual orientation (to name a few).

But imagine how awesome this news would seem without its dark origins. Why would a large corporation not do this more often? I do not think the goodness of the reaction should be overlooked, much as the triggering event was reprehensible.

To professionals everywhere who read this article I would say you really should consider workplace human rights training. An attempt to make our communities better should not always have to wait until we have already made them worse. But training staff at 8,000 stores and broadcasting it all over the news and social media makes the world a better place than when we all woke up this morning. Please share this article if you agree.

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.

Disgraceful.

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.