Escape crazy-making job via medical leave with EI (Canada)?
July 11, 2013 10:21 AM   Subscribe

It seems that the only way my husband can escape his terrible job without punishment is to go on a medical leave. There is more inside, but the general question here is: is this a good idea and are we missing something? Can you think of other options?

He husband works in the trades in Alberta. His working environment has become unbearable. There is nepotism, favoritism towards one ethnic group, open hostility, spying and general harassment and intimidation from the general foreman, who even keeps ‘moles’ (often relatives) to report to him on certain people at the site. Some examples of badness:

- When new employer-provided supplies are validly needed, like work gloves, a worker has to go to this person, who criticizes the employee for needing them and retrieves them from a locked drawer behind his desk
- Recently, on a very hot day, all the people from white ethnic group X were made to work outside while non-white ethnic group got to work inside
- When there is a safety incident, he will attempt to hush it up, has actually encouraged the injured party to quit and/or discouraged them from filing a worker’s compensation claim
- When there is a safety incident, a non-injured person is often targeted for ‘causing’ the accident and is fired
- Gift certificates to be distributed by him to certain people have gone ‘missing’
- Seemingly arbitrary rules for receiving incentives are applied that have excluded my husband from receiving them (you are two weeks short of having worked here 13 months, too bad)
- There is often fault-finding in tiny things, just to keep people in their place

My husband gets targeted because he is very vocal about his dissatisfaction and refuses to lay down and take it like everyone else does. The others complain in private, but they never say anything to the foremen.

He has had enough and asked for either a transfer or a layoff two days ago. These requests have been denied, presumably out of spite. For those who don’t know the trades, it’s pretty common to be granted a layoff upon request for no other reason than that you don’t feel like working for a while. They have said he’ll have to quit if he wants out. He would do that, but the problem is that if he quits, he will be banned from working for this company for 3 months. This company has other, good job-sites, so he wants to leave the door open, especially to get that transfer he is hoping for.

He is considering going on EI via a medical leave until he can find a new job (I’m guessing he would be off for about a month). As he is been psychologically and physically affected by stress from his job, this would be valid and I’m sure his doctor would have no problem granting this. This seems like a good solution to us. It looks like the only way he can get out without quitting, so it’s not really about the EI money.

I really doubt it, but is there a way to make this better or bearable without leaving the job? If he leaves he will end up with a much longer commute (meaning less sleep and time with me and our daughter) and possibly have more exposure to dirty air and bad chemicals.

There is no use in going to the union. They couldn’t even help my husband when he was fired after a back injury (at another site and company), so I can’t see them being of use now. Besides, they can operate by their own rules too, and make my husband’s life miserable or even unofficially blacklist him. I did contact the local labour board after that incident a few years back, but was told that, unfortunately, this trade goes by different rules than other jobs, so protective measures just don’t apply. Also, we will not go to a lawyer. There is nothing to gain from making a huge stink about all of this. If we did go to a higher agency, I think it would be out of spite. I don't know what there would be to gain. And I don't know how one would establish proof of these things either.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total)
Layoff by request may be common practice but is illegal so medical EI is definitely better among those options.

If doctor agrees and prospects for finding a new job are good i don't see any benefit to trying to improve the situation, it sounds like a massive problem to repair and unlikely to succeed. So leaving does seem smart.

The only way to fix this i can see is going up the chain in the union to complain about your local rep... This can result in a new rep who does their job. You should clearly be getting more help in such a situation!!

Failure to file WCB forms after injury is serious and should be reported to WCB imo. I would brown envelope if not willing to do so publicly or formally or through the union, because the safety of everyone working there is at stake if workplace safety is being disregarded.
posted by chapps at 10:43 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unless his doctor can truthfully say that the stress of this situation is causing your husband health problems, it's fraud.

Your husband's work sitution sounds shitty, but a lot of work situations are shitty.

He can try to find a job on a different site, or with a different company. He can try not complaining, as it's not getting him anywhere and is harming him on this particular site. He can get a completely different job, or you can move to a different community.

Is this a trade that your husband can practice freelance? Perhaps selling his services to homeowners instead of through larger companies? Can he form his own company and bid on jobs, thus becoming the boss?

There are lots of legal ways around this, but what you're proposing is illegal and unethical.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:49 AM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a former Canadian taxpayer and contributor to the EI system, please don't defraud EI. Thanks.
posted by ewiar at 10:53 AM on July 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

As he is been psychologically and physically affected by stress from his job, this would be valid

If a physician agrees, it goes through channels, and her husband is found to be entitled to medical leave, I don't see how this is fraudulent.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:59 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with Ruthless Bunny. It does suck: it's not that I'm not sympathetic to your husband's situation. It's hard enough working in a physical job with extreme conditions, and I can only imagine what the favouritism and poor treatment must add in the way of stress. However, encouraging his employer to break the law by laying him off so he can take a break, or encouraging his doctor to assist with a false medical claim, are not options I would endorse.

I think you have given up on the union and/or employment lawyer route too easily. If your husband is willing to push back and work to improve conditions for all of the employees who are chafing in this job, it will be much more satisfying and productive than trying to take a possibly illegal/unethical shortcut that benefits only himself.
posted by Pomo at 10:59 AM on July 11, 2013

Your husband is not being punished by having to quit his job in order to quit his job.

The premise of your question is incorrect, so all the answers here will be less than helpful.
posted by saeculorum at 11:01 AM on July 11, 2013

If he could find a job in a month, why isn't he looking now?
posted by sm1tten at 11:23 AM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

"As he is been psychologically and physically affected by stress from his job, this would be valid and I’m sure his doctor would have no problem granting this. This seems like a good solution to us. It looks like the only way he can get out without quitting, so it’s not really about the EI money."

I'm not sure where people are getting "fraud" from. This doesn't say anything about it not being above-board.

The way this is described it kind of sounds like the toxic culture of that site extends out to the whole industry in this area such that getting out of that industry all together might be a better plan long-term.
posted by bleep at 11:56 AM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

For those who don’t know the trades, it’s pretty common to be granted a layoff upon request for no other reason than that you don’t feel like working for a while.

What? No.

My husband has been a tradesman in Alberta all his life and says he has never, ever heard of this. In fact, we own a machine shop in Alberta and employ tradesmen and there's not a chance in hell I'd ever do such a thing. It is fraud for an employer to misrepresent the reason for termination with penalties of up to $12,000 per Record of Employment. (Service Canada source)

I think you might have this all backwards. Yes, it sounds like a horrible, toxic environment, but it's no different than any other AskMe posted by people with shitty jobs. The advice is always "keep the one you've got while you're looking for another". Your situation is absolutely no different. And to have so much faith that the other sites are better/more stable/even an option for your husband strikes me as wishful thinking. Poisonous organizations are just that.

I strongly suggest you find a plan B that includes relocation if necessary. Your story isn't unique because he's a tradesman; this situation plays out daily worldwide.
posted by mireille at 12:09 PM on July 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

I agree its fraud if you are faking with the doctor, but workplace stress can have very real health effects and it may be worth checking in wth the doctor even if they dont think rhe symptoms warrant leave. I am takng on faith the OP isnt lying about health impacts with my remarks above.

Also leaving unsafe work can be grounds for appealing your EI status of "quitting" no one shpuld be forced to work where safety rules are being ignored--that isnt just a shitty job.
posted by chapps at 12:35 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure where people are getting "fraud" from. This doesn't say anything about it not being above-board.

I'm getting "fraud" from a couple of places. First, the poster's husband has already asked "to be granted a layoff upon request for no other reason than that [he doesn't] feel like working for a while." As others have noted, this is fraudulent. Second, the poster has given no examples of the "psychological" or"physical" effects of stress that would, purportedly, justify medical leave.

Given that fraud was Plan A, I have a hard time believing that there's a solid factual basis for Plan B.
posted by ewiar at 12:40 PM on July 11, 2013

Can't he get another job? A client of mine is a major trades recruiter in Western Canada and there are one hell of a lot of jobs out there.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:51 PM on July 11, 2013

KokuRyu's right, there aren't enough tradespeople to fill the demand in Alberta especially. We're having to bring in guys from all of the eastern provinces and we're starting to bring them in from the US and the UK too. If your husband is a Journeyman in his trade and has all of his up-to-date safety tickets, he should be able to have his pick of any number of jobs.
posted by mireille at 2:12 PM on July 11, 2013

Mod note: From the OP:
I wanted to clarify some things. First, his physical symptoms are pain other than back pain (which was a prior injury), like leg pain, due to the repetitive nature of the work on this particular job-site. There is back pain as well; last month he had to take a week off because he threw his back out *at home, not at work*, but I personally think his work was a contributor. There are doctor's visits galore to back this up. Psychologically, he has mood swings that are more 'swingy' than they every were and trouble sleeping, which is completely new.

He did not ask for a layoff because he did not feel like working. That was an example. Yes, the construction industry is rife with EI fraud. No, my husband has never requested a lay-off before or committed EI fraud.

He is looking for a new job. Getting a new job, however, is not quite so simple, as he is a union employee. When you are part of the union, you get jobs through the union and the union only. Let's say you look at the job board and there are 5 postings. 4 require you to be flown out there and stay for 21 days, the 5th is with that company you quit working for and are now banned from for 3 months. Now what? You sit and wait until an appropriate posting to come up. You are supposed to put your name on the list and wait in line like everyone else, but what often happens is that you contact the employer and get them to agree to hire you because you have a good reputation. It has to be time-coordinated. They put the job on the board, you put your name in for the job, and they select you. My husband has a reputation as a very hard and solid worker, so this shouldn't be a problem WHEN an appropriate job comes up. Being part of a union, though, at least gives you a pension and protects your wages.

This said, it may really be just be a 'too bad for you' situation. I appreciate your answers.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:29 PM on July 11, 2013

What about leaving the union and looking for trade work on his own? Are there companies that will hire non-union labour at good enough rates to make it worthwhile? There's certainly a lot of work to go around in Alberta for skilled labour.
posted by Dasein at 3:25 PM on July 11, 2013

Layoff by request may mean that you will be laid off instead of someone else when there are layoffs. If it's fraud, don't do it.

Go to the union. Talk to them about filing a grievance - that might be a way to get that transfer. If the union isn't effective, he should run for union office - unions are as good as their membership makes them (with a lot of exceptions and special circumstances).

He should talk to his doctor about sick leave for stress, especially if he has physical symptoms like high blood pressure, and the chronic back issues may be stress-related. Even 2 weeks of rest might help him cope a lot better.
posted by theora55 at 4:11 PM on July 11, 2013

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