Nova Scotia

Cape Breton police absenteeism due to illness or injury cut in half

The number of Cape Breton regional police officers who are off work with illness or injury has been cut in half compared to two years ago, and human resources staff say that's due to early intervention and support.

CBRM human resources staff say early intervention, offers of support and accommodation are helping officers

Cape Breton Regional Police Service has cut its police absenteeism number in half after human resources staff began offering early intervention for those off work with illness or injury. (George Mortimer/CBC)

The Cape Breton Regional Police Service has cut its staff absenteeism number in half over the last couple of years and the union representing officers says it is pleased with the initial results.

The municipality's human resources department says it has started working with employees who are off work with illness or injury to get them back on the job faster.

Karen Butterworth, CBRM's manager of occupational health and safety, said that is a change from past practice.

"What that would be now is having a direct conversation about why they're off, what could we provide them with, what support do they need, where in past it may not have been that in-depth," she said.

In 2019, up to 43 of the force's 200 officers were off the job due to illness or injury, Chief Robert Walsh told CBRM's police commission meeting this week.

The force recently hired 10 new constables and the number of vacancies is now down to 24, with five of those being recent retirements, he said.

Early intervention support

Butterworth said there will always be some employees off the job for a variety of reasons, but changing the way HR deals with them is improving the absenteeism rate and morale.

"Our human resource department is looking at ways to better support the employees as part of an early intervention," she said.

"If they need supports or if they need an accommodation, we are better able to support that."

The municipality also recently hired a wellness co-ordinator to start working with first responders on mental health support.  

The president of the union representing Cape Breton police said officers welcome the help.

"That is a good news story," said Jason MacLean of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union. "What you want to do and what people want to do is be at work.

"For the CBRM to acknowledge that there needs to be a more proactive approach is definitely a step in the right direction."

According to statistics presented to the police commission, domestic violence and crime in general are higher this year than last year.

MacLean says morale among Cape Breton police officers was at 'rock bottom' two years ago, but it is improving with increasing support from management. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

MacLean said as a result of the pandemic, police have been overworked and risked their health.

"They needed more supports for their mental health," he said. "They needed more supports as in hiring more staff and things like that, so having more support for somebody to stay at work is always a good thing.

"I would get the sense that morale is improving. There's a lot more work to be done, but where they were a few years ago, I would characterize as rock bottom."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 17 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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