Chris Maxwell has learned a hard lesson this last month: speak your mind and you may lose job security — or your security job.
For the past two years, Maxwell has worked as a security personnel dispatch officer for SecuriCare, a B.C. and Alberta company contracted to do security work for Vancouver Island Health Authority and other healthcare organizations. But Maxwell was fired on Monday, March 12, after outing a situation to local media outlets that he deemed dangerous: security calls for the Island were being handled by a lone staff person.
“I would cover the [phone] lines coming in from Royal Jubilee Hospital, Vic General, Cowichan District Hospital, Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, as well as central and north Island, and just with the sheer volume of calls that have the potential for coming in, it could be easy for a person to miss some,” says Maxwell. “That’s not good service, and it’s not safe service.”
Maxwell wrote a letter to the Times Colonist and other B.C. papers in mid-February describing his concerns about security staff taking bathroom breaks if they were the only person on duty, and the risks of missing multiple calls should the phone lines fill, since he could only answer one call at a time.
“We process a lot of routine calls, like people who have locked themselves out by accident, and most are not life-or-death, but some are. We deal with real emergencies too,” he says. “How can one person jury which ‘real’ emergency will be most important until you pick up that phone? And how can you be expected to pick up two or three calls at once?”
The day after Maxwell sent out the letter, his supervisor told him he would be let go. When Maxwell pressed as to why, he says his supervisor told him that VIHA was upset by the letter since it disseminated “classified information” and was therefore a breach of the contract SecuriCare had with VIHA.
“My boss told me that he had been questioned about why SecuriCare would hire employees that would disseminate such information, so the only reasonable option was to suspend me indefinitely, without pay,” says Maxwell.
While Maxwell’s only job was to answer calls, he and other dispatch workers are trained through the same security procedures that on-duty security staff must take — a training that Maxwell says reinforces the importance of always working with at least a two-person team. But, because of the distinction in role, Maxwell says he received less pay and was never teamed with a co-dispatcher.
“I can see how they think I could have been more circumspect, but my objective has never been to do harm to VIHA — just to catalyze some change,” he says. “Usually, lives are not at stake with these calls, but it happens enough that two people should be there.”
Monday made contact with SecuriCare and VIHA, who both claim Maxwell’s letter was not the reason he was let go.
“My understanding was that the employee in question was facing disciplinary action before the letter to the TC,” says Shannon Marshall, VIHA communications head. “VIHA would not have anything to do with specific employees, since SecuriCare is a contract firm with us. We wouldn’t have anything to do with that [disciplinary action], unless we had a very good reason for requesting it.”
Nigel Bullers, vice-president of operations with SecuriCare, says he is familiar with Maxwell’s situation and the letter, but adds that the company “regretfully cannot talk about individual employees.” However, he says VIHA has no say in any action the company takes with any employee, and refuses the claim that Maxwell was let go due to pressure from VIHA.
“We have an obligation to uphold our contracts with our clients, and any employee would have the same obligation,” says Bullers. “In any situation, we look at the merits of each issue. This puts us in a difficult position, because we have a duty to keep every client’s information private. If one of those conditions are broken, we have a problem — so does the employee.”
In speaking with Monday, neither Bullers nor Marshall addressed Maxwell’s concerns about having only one security dispatcher assigned to answer phones, stating again that this is classified information.
Maxwell has since been in touch with his union representative and the B.C. Labour Relations Board, but was given his official dismissal on March 12. Maxwell says he is not holding his breath for getting his job back, even if it means working in a call centre for another company. Instead, he hopes his effort is not lost.
“I thought I might get a talking to, but I never really expected all this,” says Maxwell. “What this says to me is that they are afraid I might be right. My goal in getting this information out wasn’t to lose my job, but I think this is too important to not talk about — just when you think about how long it takes you to answer a call, or to call someone back, a lot can happen in that time.” M