Feedback for Exemptions and Exclusions Under the Employment Standards ActPharmacist · Dec. 10, 2017
As a retail pharmacist in a very busy pharmacy with only one pharmacist on duty at a time, I do not get breaks. Even when I was pregnant with my kids, there were 8-14 hour shifts when there was no time to eat or use the bathroom - barely time for a sip of water. Not only is this unhealthy for me, but it is unsafe for my patients. There is no way to maintain a clear and level head in a busy pharmacy for 14 hours straight with no food or breaks. I feel like I have no choice though; my only other option would be to quit my job, and there is no shortage of other pharmacists in Toronto who would be willing to take my place.
I don't think there is any reason that retail pharmacists shouldn't be entitled to Overtime pay; Minimum wage; Public Holidays; Vacation with Pay; and Personal Emergency Leave. Most conscientious workplaces already offer these things without affecting patient access to care.
The controversial exemption in my opinion is the "hours of work and eating periods", because pharmacies with only one pharmacist on duty would have to close to allow the pharmacist time for a break. I do think, however, that it is important for humans to be able to take a break - especially if their work requires the use of their brain to make decisions that affect the health and safety of others. We are not robots! Which is worse: having an exhausted, hungry, distracted pharmacist fill your prescription right away, or having to wait longer for your prescription so that it can be checked by a pharmacist who was able to eat and go to the bathroom?
Also, without an eating break, pharmacists are forced to eat in the dispensary. In every pharmacy I've worked at, pharmacists regularly eat at their workbench; often taking bites in between checking prescriptions. It is not sanitary or safe for food containers and utensils to be sitting on the same workspace that is used to fill prescriptions.
I hope that there is a solution that would allow pharmacists a break without forcing the entire pharmacy to close. Even a 15-minute break to use the washroom and eat would make a difference. Perhaps a mandatory rest break where the pharmacist must leave the dispensary and refrain from work activities, but remain on the general premises (in case of emergency)? I feel that the break must be mandatory, or else some unscrupulous businesses may favour the employment of pharmacists who are willing to forgo the break.
In my experience, members of the general public usually assume that pharmacists are entitled to the same employment standards as everyone else - and are shocked when they learn that the person entrusted with ensuring the safety of their medications may not have had any break for 12 hours or more. For the safety of our patients, I believe it is important to find a solution to ensuring pharmacists take breaks.