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Successfully Navigating Employees Back to Work

As the curve continues to flatten, more employers are turning their minds toward re-opening and getting their employees back to work.

While the Province has limited the number of types of business to re-open so far, they have laid out a set of more than 60 sector-specific guidelines that companies must follow when they do reopen. So, whether your industry has been given the green light to reopen or not, the time to start preparing is now. 

Establish a re-opening task force

If your business had already established a pandemic response task force earlier during COVID-19, you may wish to use this same task force to assist with your reopening protocol. This task force should assess which of the Provincial reopening guidelines will apply to the business and develop strategies for compliance. 

This may include the setting up of plexiglass screens for employees who regularly interact with the public, determining how social distancing will be achieved in the workplace, provision for PPE, etc. Depending on the nature of the business, this task force may also have to make recommendations about whether the entire business will open at once or whether it will open in stages.

Legal and contractual considerations

Once you have a good idea of what workplaces changes need to be made in order to meet government guidelines and protect your employees, you should review any company polices, employee contracts or collective agreements to determine if any changes to these documents need to be made. In the case of collective agreements, you will likely need to consult with the union.  

If you have decided to make revisions to any of these documents unilaterally, we recommend that you contact Minken Employment Lawyers for a consultation to ensure you are protected legally. 

Overcoming barriers to employees returning to work

While many employees may be excited to return to the workplace, it is important to remember that there may be others who have real anxiety about it – fearing they will be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Still others may find that with school still out, they are without childcare.

The following are a few challenges that your business might face in bringing employees back and how you can handle these challenges. 

  • Employees who refuse to work out of fear of COVID-19 – as an employer, you have the duty to provide a safe work environment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Employees have the right to refuse unsafe work if they have reasonable cause to believe the work environment is unsafe. It is important to communicate to your employees what you have done to ensure their safety (deep cleaning of building, providing PPE, social distancing measures, etc.) If the employee still refuses to work, you should contact an employment lawyer before taking further action. Employment laws and mental health issues must always be considered in any return to work plan. 
  • Protocol for paying employees who are sick or in isolation due to COVID-19 – Employers are not necessarily required to pay employees who are home sick or taking time to self-isolate. This includes when employers have sent them home for this reason. However, if an employee is able to work from home, and an employer permits them to do so, then the employer must pay them their regular wage. If the employee is sick or self-isolating and unable to work from home, the employer can consider allowing them to use vacation days, any sick days under the internal policy or unpaid sick days guaranteed by the Province. 
  • Employees facing challenges related to childcare – As an employer, you have the duty to accommodate and may not discriminate against employees based on their family situations. Likewise, however, your employees have the responsibility to cooperate and exhaust all possibilities – including asking friends and/or other family members if they can babysit. 

As you navigate your employees back to work, you are likely to encounter these and other challenges. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues. If you have any questions on COVID-19 and your workplace or are planning on reopening and bringing your employees back to work, please contact us today at contact@minken.com or call us at 905-477-7011. Sign up for our newsletter to receive up-to-date COVID-19 information, including new legislation and Court decisions impacting your workplace.

Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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