Feedback for Exemptions and Exclusions Under the Employment Standards Act

Pharmacist  ·  Dec. 5, 2017

I am a pharmacy student. At the time when pharmacists were exempted from the ESA, this was in an era where most pharmacists were self-employed contractors. Thus, pharmacists had to do everything such as dispensing medications, stocking shelves, sweeping floors. Therefore, they needed to work beyond normal standards in order to get everything done. The historical rationale for the exemptions applicable to pharmacists was that pharmacists have a professional duty and obligation to respond to patients’ needs. As a result, interruptions in their work for rest may not be possible at times.

Hours of Work, Eating Periods and Overtime: Removing these exemptions would not impact the access to timely pharmacy care in my community. For example, if a pharmacist takes a thirty minute eating break, there are still pharmacy technicians and assistants who can enter, fill, and in the case of pharmacy technicians who can check the technical aspects of a prescription. Also, most standard wait times are 20 minutes, if a patient were to come at the beginning of a pharmacist’s eating break, they would wait 10 more minutes to receive their medication, and most of the work of entering, filling, and technically checking is complete. Under the current exemptions, pharmacists can also work more than eight hours per day. Limiting the working hours and allowing eating periods would positively impact the pharmacy care patients receive. Pharmacists would not only have the energy to communicate with patients, but pharmacists’ performance and productivity would be increased and there would be less burnout and stress while working. Finally, including the eating rest period would impact the safety of pharmacy care in a positive way. Pharmacists would be better able to check prescriptions faster and with higher accuracy, and catch therapeutic and technical errors at a higher rate if they have a scheduled eating period and eight hours of work (versus twelve hours for example). Although pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals and have to deal with unpredictable events, circumstances or demands arising from client needs, nature of technology, or the nature of the work process, the limited hours and rest period will not impact the quality and safety of patient care, nor the access to timely pharmacy care. Similarly, walk-in clinics also have rest periods and limited hours. Also, patients requiring immediate care should always head to the hospital. All the roles of pharmacists can still be performed if pharmacists were subject to the hours of work, eating period and/or overtime requirements of the ESA. Pharmacists can still counsel on prescription and OTC medications, check prescriptions, take verbal prescriptions, and administer flu shots within the working hours under the requirements of the ESA. There are times when pharmacists contact physicians, and their office is closed for lunch. Similarly, if pharmacists took lunch at the same time as other physicians’ offices, this wouldn’t impact the communication and care provided to patients. In fact, the output of pharmacists would be improved and the work in its present form wouldn’t be fundamentally changed. With the profession’s current exemptions under the ESA, it is difficult to maintain a work-life balance. The job of a community pharmacist is very stressful and the lack of eating periods, no restriction on hours of work, and no overtime pay can impact the mental health of pharmacists and their health and safety.

Minimum Wage: While pharmacists are currently exempt from standard minimum wage enforcement, most pharmacists actually make well above it. Thus, if pharmacists were subject to the minimum wage requirements, it is not likely that the hourly wage would change greatly and would impact access to timely pharmacy care, nor the quality and safety of pharmacy care in my community.

Public Holidays: Pharmacists are not entitled to public holidays or public holiday pay. The nature of the work associated with the practice of pharmacy doesn’t prevent its businesses from closing on public holidays. Most clinics near pharmacies drive business and prescriptions to the nearest pharmacy. However, most physicians and clinics are closed on public holidays. Thus, when pharmacists are exempted under the ESA, the pharmacy doesn’t have a high script count on that day. Thus, being closed on public holiday wouldn’t impact access to timely pharmacy care. If someone gets ill on a public holiday, they would still have to see a physician’s office (which may be closed), and thus go to the hospital. If the pharmacy chose to open and public holiday pay was included, employers wouldn’t have difficulty securing adequate staffing on the public holiday. Removing these exemptions wouldn’t have an impact on access to timely patient care as they may still access medical care from hospitals or other pharmacies that choose to be open on public holidays. Pharmacists may provide better overall performance (less errors) and greater quality of pharmacy care if they had public holidays as a day off to rest.

Vacation Pay and Personal Emergency Leave: If pharmacists were entitled to vacation with pay, this would not have an impact on access to timely pharmacy care as there would likely be another staff pharmacist working. However, having vacation paid may improve the quality and safety of pharmacy care as pharmacists’ vacation would be better enjoyed if it is paid. Pharmacists are not entitled to personal emergency leave where taking currently under the exemption, the leave would constitute an act of professional misconduct or a dereliction of professional duty. This would mean that pharmacists cannot take personal emergency leave for personal illness, injury or medical emergency or death, illness, injury, medical emergency or urgent matter relating to immediate family members. Although this may impact access to timely pharmacy care, this can be overcome if the pharmacy owner/associate/manager can get a pharmacist to substitute during this time, without impacting the quality and safety of patient care provided. Thus, so long as there are staff or part-time pharmacists who can work instead of that pharmacist, personal emergency leave can be safely instituted without compromising patient care.

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