A survey of Yukon government workers with disabilities or chronic medical conditions suggests the agency set up to manage their cases has good intentions, but sometimes falls short.
CBC News obtained a copy of the survey results, which examined the experiences of workers covered by what was then called the disability management unit. In April 2020, the unit's name was changed to the health, safety and wellbeing branch. It's part of the Public Service Commission, which is effectively the Yukon government's human resources department.
Just over 300 territorial government employees responded to the survey in June 2020. A majority — 59 per cent — said they felt the branch treated them fairly and in good faith, compared to 28 per cent who said they didn't. But just 48 per cent said they felt the branch understood their needs, compared to 34 per cent who did not feel that way.
And just 33 per cent said the branch helped them "navigate the process" with Canada Life, the government's benefits provider, and/or the Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board.
However, some of the written complaints were damning.
"There is no compassion or humanity in my dealings with this unit," one worker wrote. "They are certainly not there for the employee."
Other comments referred to the branch as "there to help management in getting people back to work ASAP and I didn't feel they were interested in what I was dealing with." The employee went on to say, "it was one of the worst experiences I've ever had with government."
Another comment described branch staff as "not knowledgeable or competent, woefully so."
Comments 'hard to read,' director says
Jeananne Nicloux, director of health, safety and wellbeing at the Public Service Commission, said the branch commissioned the survey as a "pulse check" for the program after five years in operation. She said the results will help inform changes to branch services.
"The [negative] comments were very concerning and they were, some of them, hard to read," she said. "We don't want people to feel like navigating these processes is perhaps more of a burden to them than the challenge they're already dealing with."
Nicloux said the branch did not ask for comments about what worked well for employees.
"It was a bit of a miss in the survey," she said.
But Nicloux said the branch is making an effort to hire people with backgrounds in health and social services, something it didn't do before.
Another frequent complaint from survey respondents was that bosses were sometimes reluctant to make accommodations for workers with disabilities or long-term health problems. Nicloux said the branch has launched a project to make it smoother for employees to return to work. It could involve the creation of a job bank of roles suitable for workers with unique needs.
Nicloux acknowledged the branch itself has struggled with high staff turnover. But she said the branch has hired a manager to help overhaul the system. Part of that job will be to make sure the branch more clearly communicates to workers what its role is.
"We looked at the numbers and the comments together and felt like there's opportunities here for improvement and we want to start making some of those changes where we can."