Tag Archives: COVID-19

COVID-19: Guidebook on Easing Restrictions on Federal Worksites

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

We are clearly entering a new phase in our country’s efforts to fight the new coronavirus. As recent data shows a flattening of the curve of new COVID-19 infections in multiple jurisdictions across Canada, provinces and territories are announcing plans to ease restrictions and gradually re-open economies.

To guide your organizations’ plans in response to this easing of restrictions, OCHRO, Health Canada and Public Services and Procurement Canada have assembled guidance in the form of a Guidebook for Easing Restrictions: A guide to support a gradual, safe and sustainable easing of COVID-19 restrictions at federal worksites. It has benefited from contributions from a cross-section of deputy colleagues and members of the National Joint Council. Essential excerpts can be accessed here; for your convenience, I am providing direct links to OCHRO’s guidance, PSPC’s guidance and Health Canada’s occupational health tool kit.

Your organizations’ plans will need to be consistent with the same principles that have guided our collective response to the pandemic to date: being informed by the decisions of public health authorities, the direction of provinces and territories, and the local public health situation; putting the physical and psychological health of our employees first; and, preserving the delivery of services and programs.

As you adapt your plans to the particular circumstances of our diverse workforce, your worksites, your partners’ and stakeholders’ needs, and to the nature of your work, I invite you to continue to involve bargaining agent representatives in your planning through your respective Occupational Health and Safety tables.

This unprecedented situation will challenge the public service on all levels for some time, and we will continue to seize this unique opportunity for us to shape the future of our work. For example, employees of all levels will be able to continue working from home as we maximize the contribution of all members of our workforce through new telework collaboration tools and an expanded onsite presence.

I would like to thank you for your ongoing efforts towards a successful and sustainable transition, most recently through the participation of your designated lead planners to ensure a coherent approach in this significant government-wide transition exercise. This is a time for leadership at all levels to shine.

Guidance – Non-Medical Masks and Screening

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

In advance of sharing a more comprehensive guide and occupational health advice to assist you in your planning for easing of COVID-19 restrictions and possible increased access at your federal worksites, we have some important information to share on the use of non-medical masks or face coverings, and screening. This information may assist you in preparing plans for your organizations.

During this transition period, we know that employees will have many questions and concerns. Organizations should assure employees that the government is working on guidance to reduce the risk of transmission at worksites, including supporting employees in continuing to work remotely, ensuring physical distancing, cleaning and sanitizing workspaces frequently and installing engineering controls, such as physical barriers, where feasible. Encouraging employees to stay home if they are sick and following public health guidance continue to be crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

It is important to remind employees that good hygiene practices (hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette) and physical distancing remain the most important measures they can take to protect their health and the health of others.

Your organization will need to update and review your hazard prevention programs based on the latest risk-mitigation advice. You should also consult Health Canada’s updated general occupational health advice, which will be available on canada.ca in the coming days. You can tailor this advice to your specific workplace needs by working with your occupational health and safety committee to review procedures and programs as necessary.

Non-Medical Masks or Face Coverings

When all other measures are exhausted, impractical or not feasible, Non-Medical Masks (NMMs) or cloth face coverings are an additional measure that can be used to protect others around them. They are to be worn for short periods of time where physical distancing is not possible or is unpredictable.

The purpose of non-medical masks (NMM) or face coverings should be clearly communicated to employees.

NMM or face coverings:

  • are generally recommended as an additional public health measure, when it is not possible to consistently maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded settings
  • are meant to contain the wearer’s respiratory droplets to protect others – they do not protect the wearer
  • are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) because they do not meet the requirements under the Canada Labour Code

The latest occupational health advice points to key factors that you will need to consider when updating your procedures:

  • Occupational requirements of workers and their specific workplace configuration. For example, there could be instances where an employee’s face covering could become lodged in a piece of equipment
  • Inclusion and accessibility issues, such as allowing lip reading (translucid panel masks can be procured) and interference with cultural or religious headdresses
  • Some employees may want to wear NMM even when it is not recommended for added protection; consider allowing this within acceptable parameters of life cycle management and security considerations
  • Others may refuse to do so even when distancing cannot be maintained. Safety of workers must prevail; involve your OHS Committee and Labour Relations as may be required
  • Consider the local context for COVID-19 regarding community transmission in each location.

Recognizing the challenges in maintaining a two-metre distance at all times, departments will provide NMMs and/or cloth face coverings and instructions about their appropriate use and disposal.

PSPC has launched an online catalogue through which departments and agencies can purchase necessary supplies to help keep employees safe. The catalogue includes items like hand sanitizer, wipes and non-medical masks, which may be purchased in preparation for employees’ return to the workplace. Departments and agencies can request access to the online catalogue via email.

The use of protective equipment is only one tool in a broader strategy for a safe return to the workplace, and given the market realities for the goods, requests should be based on a careful review of departmental needs.

Screening

Employees should be encouraged to self-assess for symptoms of COVID-19. Health Canada’s online self-assessment tool helps employees complete a self-assessment. Employees can also access the tool through the free Canada COVID-19 app, which also provides access to useful resources and information.

Passive screening should be implemented and supported through signage and other information material.

In some locations, especially where services to the public are provided, organizations might consider active screening as described by Health Canada.

Public health authorities have signaled that physical distancing requirements will remain in place and many employees will find themselves continuing to work from home for some time to come. The easing of restrictions will bring a new phase for Canadians and for all of us in the public service. We will continue to work together and with you as we move forward.

6990 Leave and Family-Related Responsibilities

Photo of CIU flag

CBSA is using the 6990 leave code to cover employees who are unable to work for various COVID-related reasons including the closure of schools and daycares (Note: “Other Leave with Pay” is coded as 699 within the core Treasury Board units).

Where telework is available, parents with young children at home have not been expected to put in the same number of working hours as members who do not have childcare responsibilities. Some parents have been putting in a few hours a day and some haven’t been working at all. Generally speaking, the availability of 6990 to cover non-working hours has been assessed on a case-by-case basis and, for the most part, our members haven’t had too many problems accessing this leave with pay.

In May, some provinces and territories began to talk about re-opening schools and daycares. The decision on what, when and how to reopen has varied widely across the country. Some provinces have chosen to not to reopen until the Fall, while others have limited childcare spaces to parents who work in essential services. Even where schools have reopened, many parents have chosen not to send their children back because of safety concerns.

On May 10, 2020 Treasury Board sent an email to all of its Heads of Human Resources regarding 699 leave and childcare. It contained the following:

As schools and daycares are re-opened, we expect that employees who could not work due to childcare obligations will be able to return to work. We recognize, however, that there will be some instances where employees may be unable to work their full hours if their children are unable to return to school or daycare due to health reasons, limited availability of spaces or other restrictions put in place by provincial or territorial authorities. In these cases, employees may use ‘Other Leave With Pay (699)’ for hours not worked, if they are unable to make alternate childcare arrangements.

The email goes on to encourage managers to “have a conversation” with employees on 699 about the possibility of taking on flexible working arrangements as an alternative to staying on leave.

Policy Grievance

On 13 May 2020, the PSAC filed a policy grievance regarding the employer’s email. The union is concerned that parents who choose not to return their children to school or daycare will be involuntarily taken off the 699 leave with pay. Some children live in households with vulnerable family members, and many parents do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school or daycare with inadequate social distancing measures in place. Whatever the reason, we need to ensure that members with childcare obligations are not forced to choose between a pay cheque and the wellbeing of their families.

We expect to receive the employer’s final level reply on this policy grievance within the next few weeks.

Individual Grievances

In the event that we are unsuccessful in resolving the problem with a policy grievance, we need to be prepared to file individual grievances for any members who are forced off 6990 but still have childcare responsibilities. These are members who:

  • Currently care for children at home
  • Are currently on 6990 Leave with Pay
  • Live in a province/territory where childcare facilities have not reopened OR cannot get a childcare space due to limited reopening OR have safety concerns for their children or other vulnerable family members
  • Have been advised by the employer that they are no longer eligible for 6990 Leave with Pay

The grievance language is as follows:

Details:

I grieve the Employer’s refusal to grant me “6990 leave” with pay, requested on [insert request date] and denied on [insert refusal date], when I was unable to work regular hours due to childcare responsibilities related to COVID-19.

(If you are under the Program and Administrative Services (PA) collective agreement, insert:)

This is a violation of Article 53.01 – leave with or without pay for other reasons and Article 19 – no discrimination of the collective agreement; section 7 of the Canadian Human Rights Act; and all other relevant articles.

(If you are under the Border Services (FB) collective agreement, insert:)

This is a violation of Article 52.01 – leave with or without pay for other reasons and Article 19 – no discrimination of the collective agreement; section 7 of the Canadian Human Rights Act; and all other relevant articles.

(If you are under the Operational Services (SV) collective agreement, insert:)

This is a violation of Article 56.01 – leave with or without pay for other reasons and Article 19 – no discrimination of the collective agreement; section 7 of the Canadian Human Rights Act; and all other relevant articles.

(If you are under the Technical Services (TC) collective agreement, insert:)

This is a violation of Article 55.01 – leave with or without pay for other reasons and Article 19 – no discrimination of the collective agreement; section 7 of the Canadian Human Rights Act; and all other relevant articles.

Corrective Action Requested:

A declaration that the Employer has breached the collective agreement;

That I be granted leave with pay when I am unable to work regular hours due to childcare responsibilities related to COVID-19;

That I be compensated for all losses, including lost wages and benefits, that resulted from the Employer’s refusal to grant me paid leave;

That the Employer ceases this discriminatory refusal and take measures to redress the practice and/or to prevent the same or similar refusal from occurring in the future;

That the Employer makes available to me the rights, opportunities, and privileges that are being or were denied as a result of the refusal;

That I be compensated $20,000 for pain and suffering experienced as a result of the discrimination;

That I be compensated $20,000 for the Employer’s willful and reckless engagement in the discriminatory practice;

That the filing of this grievance not prejudice me in any future dealings with the Employer;

That I be made whole;

Any other redress deemed appropriate.

Union representatives who receive a concern from a member with childcare responsibilities who has been refused 6990 leave are asked to assist the grievor in completing their grievance form as outlined above. Do not submit the grievance to the employer until after the employer’s final level reply to the policy grievance has been issued unless you need to protect the 25-day timeline.

We will advise the NBoD of the decision as soon as it is available and (if necessary) give the green light for the submission of any grievances you have received to date.

General 6990 Issues

We expect that the employer will wait until a decision on the policy grievance is issued prior to attempting to remove some employees from 6990 leave. Members may be approached in the meantime, however, to “have a conversation” about their childcare needs. In particular, the employer may inquire as to whether these members are able to complete a certain number of hours a week rather than remain full-time on leave with pay (6990).

Our members have an obligation to answer the employer’s questions truthfully and to the best of their ability. The bottom line, however, is that if a member can’t work due to their childcare responsibilities they should be allowed to remain on leave with pay.

The transition back to work will not be an easy one, and it is still too early to know exactly what “normal” will look like. It will be easier to implement social distancing requirements for front-line workers, even though we don’t anticipate that the borders will reopen for at least another month. There is still no clear indication of how social distancing will be accomplished for office workers. When Treasury Board refers to “returning to work”, therefore, we believe that in most instances they are referring to employees formerly on 6990 starting to work from home, not returning to a physical work location.

To date, we do not have any indication that the employer intends to cut 6990 leave for members whose vulnerability makes them unable to work. The Treasury Board email deals solely with 6990 leave and childcare.

This is what a successful return-to-workplace plan looks like

Man working at computer

PSAC is working hard to make sure the federal government takes every necessary precaution to ensure that the return to federal offices and workspaces across the country is safe for employees, their families, and the general public.

PSAC insists that the health, safety, wellness, and privacy rights of public service workers must be at the centre of the return to workplace plan and that it reflect the fact that, until a COVID-19 vaccine is created, the virus poses an ongoing threat to the physical and mental health of workers.

PSAC also takes the position that:

  • All return-to-workplace provisions must be in line with collective agreements and legal obligations.
  • Since specific equity groups have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, the plan must be created with a strong equity and human rights lens.
  • The overall plan and any specific measure must adhere to direction from public health authorities and assessments from professional experts in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Additionally, PSAC is urging the following measures:

Conditions for returning to the workplace

  • Provide clear guidelines for determining who will be selected to return to workspaces and who will continue to work from home. Decisions should not be left to the discretion of management to avoid discrimination.
  • Provide employees who are returning to the workplace with a reasonable notice period of at least two weeks to allow them to manage the transition and to do so gradually.
  • Allow workers living with an immunocompromised individual to continue to work remotely to minimize exposure within their household until a vaccine becomes available.
  • Continue our members’ access to “Other Leave with Pay” (699) to accommodate various circumstances including, but not limited to, child care responsibilities that are related to COVID-19, including if parents are unable to or choose not to send their children back to school or daycare.
  • Acknowledge that productivity will be negatively affected by the pandemic and that employees’ performance evaluations should not consequently be negatively affected.
  • Allow for genuine consultation and negotiation with bargaining agents on any reorganization of work. Especially in the event that changes would trigger Work Force Adjustment obligations.

Public transit and shared spaces

  • Consider how returning to offices or workspaces increases a worker’s risk of exposure to the virus as it may require them to drop children off at school or childcare, ride a bus or train, use a public washroom or ride an elevator.
  • Include a strategy to ensure workers can remain at a 2-metre physical distance from others, including in shared spaces, but still have access to necessities such as washrooms, elevators, microwaves and fridges.
  • Address how an employer will proceed when 2-metre physical distancing is not possible in elevators, entrance ways, stairwells, washrooms, and routes to and from public transit.
  • Consider the impact on workers who cannot take public transit because of risk of exposure, and therefore support accommodations like additional or reduced-price parking available for those who can drive to the work site.
  • Ensure that employers implement health and safety strategies such as staggered scheduling, controlling or restricting access to common spaces, more frequent cleaning/disinfecting of the workplace, preparing and training for emergency situations, as well as training and communication on COVID-related health and safety procedures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

General health & safety, sanitation and workers’ needs

  • Provide a robust sanitation plan and risk assessment of federal government workspaces.
  • Include a plan to track cases of COVID-19 in the public service, including procedures that must be followed after a worker tests positive.
  • Address Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needs and align these needs with the recommendations of provincial and territorial health agencies who have called for the use of masks and gloves, especially when physical distancing is not possible.
  • Outline support for teleworkers in terms of ergonomic support, mental health, and appropriate working equipment.
  • Provide managers and Occupational Health & Safety Committees with additional situation-specific training to deal with the range of mental health problems that are likely to result, or have already, due to COVID-19.
  • Provide sufficient medical research and an assessment by a technical professional to determine how ventilation systems can contribute to virus transmission.
  • Include a plan to ensure all sanitation and ventilation systems are in ongoing compliance with the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR).
  • Consider slowing the pace of the conversion to Activity-Based Working. All work arrangements should be considered and evaluated in the context of COVID-19.

Child care

  • Provide clear guidelines on how to accommodate employees who may have to continue to provide childcare while also working due to COVID-19.
  • Allow parents to use “Other Leave with Pay” (699) to fulfill childcare needs related to COVID-19, including if some parents may be forced to keep their children home despite some schools and childcare facilities re-opening.
  • Include plans to negotiate with PSAC at the bargaining table so that its childcare proposal can be implemented as part of collective agreements.

Domestic and family violence

  • Provide an outline for the steps that will be taken to ensure employees are supported and feel protected from violence at home; whether they return to the workplace or continue to work from home.
  • Include a plan to finalize an agreement with PSAC on domestic violence leave.

Employment equity and human rights

  • Include a management approach that recognizes the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on specific groups, such as people with disabilities, women, racialized and Indigenous people.
  • Incorporate guidelines that will ensure that human rights, privacy rights and employment equity obligations are being met by the employer.
  • Include plans to consult with the NJC Joint Employment Equity Committee and departmental employment equity committees on changes to any practices, processes and policies that can potentially effect workers (telework, technological changes, workspaces, etc.) due to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on equity groups.

Privacy

  • Stipulate that any disaggregated information (age, gender, race etc.) collected that may be relevant for collective bargaining will be provided to PSAC so that we can determine any disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our members.
  • Ensure that any health or employment data collected by an employer observes privacy obligations and is stored in a secure manner.

PSAC is demanding that the government continue meaningful consultation with federal unions throughout the development and implementation of a return-to-workplace plan.

Until an acceptable overall plan is developed, PSAC strongly recommends that our members continue to work from home where possible.

We will provide further updates on the development of a plan as more information becomes available.

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