Know Your Rights

Understanding Your Contract: Article 24.09 – Displacement

March 14, 2023

Article 24.09 allows employers to unilaterally displace/float permanent and/or temporary registered nurses on a temporary basis under certain circumstances. These circumstances are quite broad, and they include increased or decreased workload, unexpected absences, or emergencies. Outside of these circumstances, the employer must have the agreement of the permanent and/or temporary registered nurse in order to displace them.

For some years, RNU and the employer have disagreed on the interpretation surrounding displacement of casual nurses because Article 33.02 (Casual Employees, Benefits) implies that Article 24.09 (Displacement) does not apply to casual employees. RNU has argued that casual employees can refuse displacement to another work area, while the employer has argued that the limitations on circumstances of displacement (as noted above) do not extend to casual employees.

This issue was arbitrated in the Fall of 2015 and on December 2, 2015, Arbitrator Jim Oakley ruled in the employer’s favour. The arbitration award states that the employer is allowed to displace casual employees, BUT ONLY AFTER THE COMMENCEMENT OF A SHIFT. In denying the grievance, Arbitrator Oakley found that the employer’s right to direct its workforce (as stated in the management rights clause as it relates to displacement of casual registered nurses), is not modified by any specific language in the collective agreement. He found that Article 24.09 was a clear restriction on the employer’s right to displace employees, but it is only applicable to permanent and temporary registered nurses. Therefore, since it is not applicable to casual registered nurses, Arbitrator Oakley held that the employer is free to displace casual registered nurses as they deem appropriate from an operational perspective.

The arbitration was based on the evidence showing that casual registered nurses are generally hired for a particular program and are orientated to all areas/units within that program. This could result in casual registered nurses being amongst the first the employer chooses to displace from a professional practice perspective.

RNU advocates that displacement occur equitably amongst members, however, we also acknowledge that factors such as professional competence and orientation to specific areas may also be considered.

Practically speaking, an employer can usually justify the need for displacement/floating based upon increased or decreased workload, unexpected absences, or emergencies. As such, a grievance based upon a unilateral employer decision in these circumstances would have little chance of success at arbitration.

In addition, given the normal “work now, grieve later” principle of labour relations, any remedy through the grievance process will likely come after the fact. Grievances filed in such circumstances, though, can draw the employer’s attention to displacement issues that are of concern to individual registered nurses.

As noted in Article 24.09,

“If the displacement requires the employee to move to another place of employment, the displacement shall not exceed one month.”

This particular wording was negotiated many years ago to limit the displacement of registered nurses between nursing stations on the Labrador coast. Since the early 1990s and the regional integration of various separate employers, some boards have used this language to justify the temporary displacement of registered nurses to different sites under the same board. RNU has maintained that this language was never intended to be used for such purposes, but whether this practice is permitted under the collective agreement has not yet been clarified through arbitration. That said, displacements to other work sites are relatively rare and RNU is often able to limit the impact of such moves through discussions with employers.

Displacement can raise professional practice issues that are not addressed in our collective agreement. Sometimes a valid displacement may not be appropriate if there are professional practice issues. Registered nurses who are displaced into units by the employer where they lack the appropriate orientation, professional qualifications, training, or experience to work should immediately bring this to their supervisor’s attention, both verbally and in writing, and by completing a professional practice form.

Registered nurses can also use RNU’s professional practice resources or consult with the College of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador for specific direction. Registered nurses also have the right to refuse work that they reasonably believe is dangerous, either to themselves or other people in the workplace, as per the Occupational Health & Safety Act. There is a process that must be followed when refusing unsafe work. Read about the process here and reach out to your labour relations officer if you have questions.

It should be noted that employers are not obligated to displace/float registered nurses simply to facilitate the preference of other registered nurses to work in a given area. An employer, though, may choose to displace/float registered nurses in accordance with Article 24.09 in order to meet their legitimate operational requirements. Registered nurses who refuse to be displaced/floated may be disciplined by the employer, even if such refusal is justified from a professional practice point of view. RNU will fully challenge any inappropriate discipline that is imposed on our members concerning displacement/floating.

Collective agreement and/or professional practice concerns that result from displacement/floating should be brought, using the applicable documentation, to your local branch executive member(s) and union office, or to your local professional practice committee, respectively.