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Audit reveals city on top of unplanned absences

A recently completed audit by KPMG states the city is generally on top of handling unplanned absences.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The city is doing a formidable job of addressing unplanned staff absences, according to an audit from consultant KPMG.

The audit looked at four city departments – operation services, engineering services, municipal law enforcement and licensing services (MLELS), and Oshawa Fire Services.

According to the audit, these branches were selected on a number of different criteria, based on unplanned absence data between 2015 and 2018.

– Operation services had the highest average unplanned absence hours per employee within the city and have seen steady increases over the four years

– Engineering services have seen increased hours and instances of absenteeism

– The average unplanned absence days per employee and absence instances per employee in the MLELS branch were the highest in the city

– Fire services have a high number of average absence hours per employee, and overall has a high number of absence hours across the city.

Each city branch has a threshold for sick days, with any staff above the accepted levels taking part in an attendance support program.

The audit notes operations, MLELS, and fire services all have regular monitoring of sick days.

“Across operations, MLELS and fire services we were able to evidence periodic reviews of the staff above the thresholds, and evidence of monitoring of staff on the program,” the audit reads. “In addition, through discussions with managers and supervisors, we were able to evidence monitoring of other unplanned absences, including reviews of absence patterns and trends through a review of employee calendars.”

However, in the case of engineering services, KPMG notes absences have not been routinely monitored.

“While reports are provided showing staff above the thresholds for sick days, these are not always reviewed by the director nor is there evidence to show any action to follow up on staff above the threshold,” the audit states.

It was noted absences have been more thoroughly monitored in engineering services since the appointment of a new director.

KPMG partners Nick Rolfe and Tony Malfara recently presented the completed audit to members of the city’s corporate services committee.

Rolfe said it would be worthwhile for the city to implement a consistent unplanned absence threshold across all branches.

Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson agreed it would make sense to “have a corporate-wide process.”

He voiced some frustration that information wasn’t readily available on the specific thresholds for each city department.

However, he believes that certain factors, such as the physical requirements of a job, need to be considered, while Malfara noted collective bargaining agreements play a role in determining the number of sick days an employee receives.

Nicholson said he believes the audit showed, for the most part, the city is on top of unplanned absences.

“It doesn’t strike me as being the end of the world,” he said.

Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey had several concerns after reviewing the audit, noting the absences in some branches amount to an extra week’s worth of shifts per year.

She wondered how overtime factored into the situation.

“If you have departments taking more than a week of unplanned absences on average when does overtime kick in to replace that person?” she asked. “How do we know what this is actually costing the city. The idea of these audits is to see where we can save the city money.”

However, Malfara said while the purpose of the audit is to identify opportunities for saving, it is ultimately up to city staff and council to act on them.

McConkey also wanted to know if KPMG had compared Oshawa’s data with those of other municipalities.

Rolfe noted they had reviewed the policies of the City of Oakville and Lakeridge Health, but it would be an onerous task to compare data extensively.

“All municipalities are structured differently…we weren’t able to dig into that level,” he said.

Overall, Malfara said the City of Oshawa as an organization is “generally well controlled” in addressing unplanned absences, but there are opportunities for “improving control.”