Author Archives: Pierre St-Jacques

Guidance – COVID-19 leave provisions, employer-employee conversations and work equipment

Image of border crossing with the words "COVID-19"

The following message was sent by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s Chief Human Resources Officer.

As the public service continues to implement exceptional measures to curb COVID-19 and its impact on Canadians, we are all working to ensure the health and safety of our employees. Thank you for your sustained attention to these matters.

As the pandemic situation continues to evolve and physical distancing measures are expected to continue for several more weeks, I am providing updated guidance today regarding remote work and leave provisions after April 10, 2020. I am also sharing some additional information and resources about positive diagnoses of COVID-19 in the workplace and equipment for working remotely.

Remote work and leave provisions

We have updated our guidance regarding remote work and leave provisions, including the use of ‘Other Leave with Pay (699)’ and it is now available on the Employee illness and leave page on Employees who are able to work are generally fulfilling their duties remotely, or on-site when critical work cannot be carried out remotely. Managers can authorize ‘Other Leave with Pay (699)’ for employees who attest that they cannot work for the following reasons: (a) they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing related symptoms; (b) are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and cannot work remotely; or (c) are living with a dependant that is at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and cannot work remotely.

As indicated in a previous bulletin, managers must communicate regularly with their employees to provide clear expectations and show flexibility as may be called for. This update has been informed by the persistent situation, the need to continue to support physical distancing and self-isolation, best practices and fairness to our workforce.

Disclosure and Management of COVID-19 cases

As part of our efforts to ensure that we are addressing cases of COVID-19 across the public service in a consistent manner that safeguards the health and safety of our employees, we have posted more information regarding employer and employee responsibilities to communicate any suspected or confirmed positive diagnoses among our workforce. This information builds on the guidelines that were recently shared with your Labour Relations and Communications communities.

Equipment for working remotely

While most employees have the standard equipment needed to work remotely, the duration of this crisis has led to questions about providing employees with additional equipment. Providing additional equipment to employees depends on the unique context in each department and the situation of the individual employee. Working with the Office of the Comptroller General, we have enclosed a framework to assist in making these decisions, clarifying who should receive what equipment, and how such equipment should be provided.

As always, in making such decisions, we must ensure the need is sufficiently pressing. We must, as well, respect value for money and remain prudent stewards of resources.

Validity period of TBS guidance

This updated guidance, and all other measures announced to assist our workforce throughout the exceptional circumstances caused by the fight against COVID-19, will remain in effect until non-critical business is authorized to resume or as indicated otherwise by the Employer. This may occur at different times across the country, as instructions from public health authorities are issued. We will continue to consult with your teams and bargaining agents as we adjust any guidance as necessary based on how the situation, and the governments’ response to the pandemic, are evolving.

I am grateful for your cooperation during this difficult time. Remember to look after yourselves and your family. Please also remind employees to refer to the helpful content on our COVID-19 site that includes information on safeguarding mental health and working remotely.

COVID-19: Changes to the Public Service Health Care Plan

Image d'un poste frontalier avec le mot "COVID-19"

Due to COVID-19, PSAC has agreed with the employer to make some temporary amendments to the Public Service Health Care Plan, which will assist members in accessing the services that they need.

These changes include:

  • Extension of the Emergency Benefit while travelling to 60 days from 40

The following changes will be made up until April 24, 2020:

  • Any member can see a social worker and it will be covered under your psychological benefit (up to the regular annual maximum)
  • You do not need a doctor’s prescription to access physiotherapy or psychological services
  • Dispensing limit for maintenance medication will allow members to get their medication sooner, if required, and potentially get a supply for more than the 100 days’ limit which currently exists.

The full set of changes and further details can be seen here.

We will continue to work on this situation and will meet with the Employer to potentially make further amendments to Plan during the pandemic.

We are also planning a full set of negotiations for the Plan in the very near future.  We will update members as those negotiations get going.

The original version of this article was first posted on the PSAC website.

COVID-19: Your rights at work [updated April 3]

hand washing

Note: This article is being updated regularly by PSAC. Please visit the following page for updated information.

Who is at the highest risk of contracting the virus at work?

Front line workers in direct contact with the public are at the highest risk. This may include airport personnel, border services and immigration employees, teaching assistants, passport offices employees, healthcare staff etc. Anyone who comes in close proximity with a possibly infected individual could be at risk for contracting the coronavirus.

What are the employer’s responsibilities and my rights in the workplace?

There is a general duty on all employers to take all reasonable precautions to prevent harm to employees in the workplace. Employers should have a detailed plan in place to deal with this pandemic and specific protocols, including providing personal protective equipment for workers and the necessary training to use and dispose of that equipment. The approach must be proactive and focus on the protection of the worker.

PSAC is urging all employers to focus on the steps that will be required should the situation escalate within Canada. Employers also have a responsibility to provide appropriate education and training to all of their employees.

Under health and safety legislation, employees have the right to refuse dangerous work.

Workplace health and safety committees have a legal right to participate in the development of any workplace prevention and preparation strategies dealing with the virus.

For more information, consult the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.

If you have any questions or concerns about your health and safety at work, speak to a member of your PSAC local or a health and safety representative in your workplace. You can also reach out to your PSAC regional office.

What kind of leave can I take if I am quarantined or forced to self-isolate?

The employer has agreed to our demand to use “other leave with pay” rather than force our members to use sick leave. Treasury Board has said:

Employees that are required by public health officials to self-isolate, if in good health and able to work, will be asked to discuss with their managers the option to telework. If that is not possible, the employees will be granted “other leave with pay (699 code)” as per their collective agreements.

In the event that your collective agreement does not provide alternatives to sick leave as mentioned above and your employer is refusing to grant you paid leave, you are entitled to take sick leave if you are quarantined. Refer to your collective agreement for details.

If you do not have any (or not enough) paid sick leave, you can take unpaid job-protected leave. The Canada Labour Code provides up to 17 weeks of job-protected medical leave. Many provinces have such leave under their employment standards legislation. You can claim Employment Insurance (EI) benefits for periods off work due to illness if your employer doesn’t pay for your sick leave. The Liberal government has recently announced a change to the rules for Employment Insurance (EI) so that workers affected do not have to serve the waiting period to claim EI sick benefits, as well as other measures to help employers and employees. For more information, visit Government of Canada takes action on COVID-19.

If you contract coronavirus at work, you may be able to file a claim for workers compensation benefits. These types of claims were made by healthcare workers during the SARS outbreak. For more information contact your provincial or territorial workers compensation board or speak to a union representative in your local, PSAC regional office, or component.

The union is urging all employers to be flexible in allowing employees to take paid and unpaid leaves or to allow employees to work from home if possible.

Can I telework to avoid exposure to the virus, or if I am ill or quarantined?

PSAC has urged all employers to allow telework wherever possible and Treasury Board has now committeed to being “as flexible as possible” in granting leave and other provisions for our members . They have issued the following statement:

Managers are to consider telework for all employees, at all work sites, and identify an approach that is flexible while ensuring continued critical government operations and services to Canadians.

Federal organizations must identify and determine how to manage through exceptional situations that do not lend themselves to telework such as: critical services requiring on-site presence; security limitations; other operational imperatives where there are no alternatives.

However, if you are ill, you should not have to work, but instead have the right to take sick leave.

In workplaces where telework is not possible, the employer must either allow you to take leave for quarantine or illness and take all necessary measures to ensure that your workplace is healthy and safe in accordance with health and safety legislation.

As well, COVID-19 may be considered a “disability” under human rights legislation, which would then require employers to accommodate you to the point of “undue hardship”. For more information, contact the Canadian Human Rights Commission or your provincial/territorial human rights commission (if you do not work in the federal public service or under federal jurisdiction).

What can I do if my children’s school or daycare is closed?

Treasury Board has said that if employees cannot work because their children cannot attend school or daycare due to a closure or because of attendance restrictions in place in relation to the coronavirus situation, employess will be granted “other leave with pay” (699 code).

The above provisions for disruption of school and daycare operations related to the coronavirus will remain available to employees and managers for the duration of the disruption in the respective jurisdictions but will be reassessed by the Employer on April 10, 2020. 

What rights do I have if a family member is affected by the virus?

Many collective agreements contain provisions for family-related leave. Refer to your collective agreement to determine your entitlements. As well, the Canada Labour Code and employment standards legislation in many provinces and territories contain provisions for job-protected family responsibility leave. If the illness becomes serious, you may also claim benefits for Compassionate Care Leave under your collective agreement and Employment Insurance.

If you are required to take care of a  family member with the virus who is a dependent and you have made reasonable efforts to self-accommodate, the employer may be required to accommodate you up to the point of undue hardship (i.e. flexible work schedule, reduced hour, a different work schedule..etc..). The usual obligations on the employer on the duty to accommodate apply.

Mental health

For government employees: contact the 24-7 Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or your departmental coordinator, access care through the Public Service Healthcare Plan (PSHP), or use the nationwide Specialized Organizational Services (SOS).

What do I do if I face discrimination at work?

If you face discrimination as a result of:

  • Having to be in quarantine due to real or perceived illness/disability
  • Being out of the workplace due to illness or taking care of sick family
  • Being stereotyped or harassed because of your race or ethnic origin
  • Any other negative treatment due to a ground of discrimination under human rights legislation

you should speak to your local or component representative about the possibility of filing a grievance and/or human rights complaint.

Members of Asian communities in Canada and around the world have been facing racism and discrimination as a result of misinformation and stereotypes about the communities perceived to be associated with the virus. We want to remind everyone that fear or confusion about this virus should never lead to stereotyping or negative comments or actions towards people because of their race, ethnicity, or place of origin (see the PSAC Anti-Harassment Policy and the Statement on Harassment).

The original version of this article was first posted on the PSAC website.