Canada Post mask policy still not good fit for workers
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This article was published 25/02/2022 (217 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — A Canada Post policy that bars staff from wearing higher-quality masks continues to come under scrutiny, with a Winnipeg postal clerk arguing she’s being pushed out of a job for having a medical condition.
“I’m proud to work for Canada Post; it’s just that this situation has made it very difficult for me,” Amber Mann told the Free Press. “There’s no accommodation.”
The Crown corporation says it’s just trying to follow federal rules.
Mann has worked at a postal depot adjacent to the Winnipeg airport since November 2017, sorting mail and scanning parcels.
Months ago, she presented a doctor’s note about a respiratory issue, which convinced supervisors to let her wear a KN95 respirator, instead of the company’s recent standard for only cloth or surgical masks.
That policy came under national scrutiny last month after the Free Press reported on the Crown corporation sending home Winnipeg mail carrier Corey Gallagher, because he insisted on wearing a high-quality respirator.
Gallagher had a pregnant, immunocompromised wife and a child too young to be vaccinated, and had been sent home, originally without pay, for not wearing a cloth mask.
Since then, Canada Post has rolled out Level 2 medical masks, which resemble blue surgical masks but have thicker fabric.
The agency updated its regulations Jan. 27, saying respirators like N95s and KN95s could only be used by staff who have had the fit tested by an expert, which was “not feasible” in large numbers, but would be done for tasks where two or more staff need to work in close quarters.
That new policy has caused a hassle for Mann, who has been told to put the blue mask on top of the KN95 respirator that her union provided.
Not only does that extra mask warp the respirator to create gaps for air to enter, it also leaves her dizzy and lightheaded when she lifts 20-plus-kilogram parcels.
“When the seal wasn’t intact, I was vulnerable,” she said.
Canada Post said Thursday that Service Canada stipulates postal staff must wear company-supplied masks, even if it’s on top of a respirator.
“As a federal employer, we are legally required to ensure employees wear a company-supplied face covering,” wrote spokeswoman Valérie Chartrand.
Mann said instead of working out an accommodation, supervisors sent her home unpaid three times, and eventually proposed she go on short-term disability leave, which would involve a significant pay cut.
“I don’t want to be on disability; I want to be at work, but they’re forcing it upon me,” said Mann, who had asked to work on less-strenuous tasks so she could keep both masks on. “The company policy is not about employee safety; it’s about compliance.”
Her union agrees.
“It’s petty,” said Matthew Aitken, president of the local chapter of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. ‘“It’s just about a corporation having control over workers.”
The Crown corporation said its local supervisors have been co-ordinating with unions and staff.
“While we make great efforts through our accommodation program, any solutions we reach must maintain our efforts to keep employees safe and meet or exceed our regulatory requirements, which are in place to protect all employees,” Chartrand wrote.
Canada Post would not say how many employee disputes have emerged since it updated its mask policy Jan. 27.
Aitken said Canada Post often provides individual accommodations for employees with various health issues, except for the mask rules, which he says are being inconsistently enforced on staff, amid a shortage of postal workers.
“Just because a bunch of brainiacs in Ottawa came up with (the policy), it now has to apply across the entire country,” he said. “Everybody knows it makes no sense, because it’s unsafe.”
Aitken argues the fit test only makes sense if respirators are being used to prevent employees from inhaling particulate matter as part of their job, and Canada Post’s focus seems to be masks that limit staff from shedding the novel coronavirus.
The union’s view seems to be shared by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, an arm’s-length federal agency that advises on workplace policies but does not investigate them.
“Canada Post should determine if the respirators are intended to be used as exhalation or inhalation protection. This will determine whether the respirators need a fit test or not,” reads a Feb. 15 response to Winnipeg union members who asked the agency to weigh in.