Sanford Health to allow physicians to discuss contract terms
SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- Dakotas-based Sanford Health has agreed to allow its physicians to discuss terms of their contracts with coworkers and others after a federal labor board determined that the health care system was violating the law.
SIOUX FALLS (AP) - Dakotas-based Sanford Health has agreed to allow its physicians to discuss terms of their contracts with coworkers and others after a federal labor board determined that the health care system was violating the law.
The National Labor Relations Board formally approved a settlement agreement with Sanford Health last week that forces the system to change its employment contracts so that doctors may discuss their compensation in the workplace and elsewhere. The settlement came three months after a physician filed an unfair labor practice charge with the national board against Sanford's branch in Bismarck, North Dakota.
The National Labor Relations Act allows employees to "discuss with one and other their terms and conditions of employment and to, if they want to, act together to improve those conditions," Marlin Osthus, regional director at the board's office in Minneapolis, told The Associated Press. "So, it would be illegal, if the evidence were found, for an employer to tell employees that they cannot talk to one and other about their terms and conditions of employment or to require employees to sign some kind an agreement that they would not do so."
Osthus said Sanford required certain employees, but not all, to sign employment contracts banning them from talking about their terms and conditions of employment with other employees or outside parties.
Under the terms of the settlement, which were released Monday by the attorney representing the doctor who filed the complaint, Sanford must inform all affected physicians in writing that they have the right to discuss their pay and other employment terms with coworkers. The health care system, present in nine states, has a network of 39 hospitals and 225 clinics and employs more than 1,300 physicians.
Dr. Craig Lambrecht, executive vice president of Sanford Bismarck, said the health care system is working with the national board "to find a solution that supports open dialogue while protecting confidential information."
"We will, of course, work with the NLRB as we move forward with the appropriate changes," Lambrecht said in a statement.
Marshall Tanick, a Twin Cities-based employment labor lawyer, said that in recent years, particularly under the Obama administration, the national board has been "very aggressive" in patrolling instances where employers try to prevent employees from talking about their wages and contracts.
Tanick, who was not involved in the case against Sanford, said reasons why employers don't want employees discussing compensation include the potential for morale problems and internal competition. But he noted that another reason why "they don't want employees to have this information is so they can't come to management and say 'Hey, this is unfair, I'm being underpaid' or in some cases pursue legal rights, especially in gender matters."
An emergency medicine specialist, Dr. James Martin, filed the charge with the National Labor Relations Board on March 10. His Minneapolis-based attorney, Justin Cummins, said he is no longer affiliated with Sanford Bismarck.
"American physicians have been kept in the dark about their rights as employees within corporate medicine," Martin said in a statement. "... When workplace conditions in our hospitals suffer under bad management, so too does patient care."