Return to the Workplace

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

As COVID-19-related matters continue to evolve, so does our work on your behalf.  By now, you would have received multiple emails from your departments that may have actually-generated more questions.   

What is my department doing to plan an eventual return to the workplace? 

Both Treasury Board (TB) and the departments are actively engaged in developing plans for eventual returns to the workplace.  Despite the high level of planning activity, we are consistently receiving assurances that there is no deadline to return to the workplace and that for many of us, working in an office setting, telework is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.  We do anticipate that there will be more employees accessing the workplace in accordance with soon-to-be established protocols to either, complete discrete tasks or to pick up materials, ergonomic equipment or tools to telework from home.  

Business Interruption/Pandemic response teams or working groups have been created within departments and agencies to help respond and coordinate this crisis.

Who decides?

TB is the employer and is actively working on a Guidance and Workbook for Easing Restrictions for departments and agencies to follow.  TB intends to rely on health guidelines issues by the Public Health Agency of Canada when developing return to the workplace protocols.  The AJC, along other federal bargaining agents, has been meeting and continues to meet with TB weekly to discuss these and other COVID-19-related matters. 

Will I have a say?

Many departments have started to engage employees in consultations, via surveys or alternative means.  You are all encouraged to participate.  In addition to employee consultations, national health and safety policy committees, regional health and safety committees, mental health steering committees and other working groups or ad hoc committees within departments have been engaging in consultations.  

If your department or agency has not engaged in employee consultations, please contact your local GC representative to let them know and do share any concerns you have with your manager or health and safety representative (whose names should be listed on your department or agency intranet).

What is the AJC doing?

The AJC has been participating with TB and various departments in labour-management consultations and via AJC appointed health and safety representatives, in health and safety committee consultations on return to the workplace planning.  

Our main focus is to ensure the safety of our members, ensuring that those who are teleworking can continue to do so to fulfill the requirements of their jobs, and finally, to deal with the question of courthouses which do not fall under the care and control of the employer.   On the latter point, our priority focus will be on Manitoba, Alberta and the Maritime courthouses given that these are the ones slated to reopen first.    

Our particular objective in relation to courthouses, is to ensure that not only will our members be issued appropriate  PPE, that courthouses and visitors follow appropriate guidelines that are informed by experts and that these be monitored and enforced by courthouse officials, and that individuals who observe non-compliance or feel unsafe have an appropriate response plan in place.  This means a lot of coordination between courthouses and department officials to ensure that employees and members of the public are safe. 

Of the return to workplace draft documents we have seen, the very important issue of what to do in the case of a new wave, if protocols are not followed and if someone feels unsafe, have not yet been addressed.   Know that we continue to press for this.  

Can I be forced to return to the workplace?

As indicated above, departments are only in the planning process.  Even after plans are complete, we expect there to be a gradual return to the workplace; a progression where those who are able to telework can continue to do so.   We expect there to be an easing of restrictions so that individuals can access the workplace to get what items they might need to work effectively.  Those who are already accessing the workplace because of the critical work that they do will likely see few changes.  

Please contact your regional representative if you have specific circumstances that may require additional advice or support.  For information on the right to refuse work, please refer to our FAQ and our previous communique on the topic.  

Will I continue to have access to 699 leave if school and day cares have reopened in my province?

Bargaining agents have been actively engaged in consultations with TB in relation to 699 leave.  You will recall that those who are unable to work all their hours on account of competing family obligations, can use 699 leave to make up the difference.  Now that some school and day cares are reopening, we received many questions, most of which have been addressed by DOJ and PPSC where they both have taken the position that 699 leave will continue to be available.  

Since then, TB has issued a document providing further guidance to departments on 699 leave and essentially allows managers to exercise discretion as it relates to circumstances where parents feel conflicted on sending their children to school or daycare.  While some departments are expected to continue to make 699 leave available and respect parents’ right to choose, the Immigration Review Board has since adopted TB’s recently issued guidelines.  Federal public service bargaining agents, including the AJC, are pressing for change so that parents are not forced to choose between the safety of their children or their pay cheque.    Please stay tuned as the situation continues to evolve.

We have been tirelessly exchanging with the various departments to help in the coordination of our collective effort to keep you all safe.  We will continue to work diligently and with strong conviction at ensuring your safety and well-being.  

Again, as indicated, this is a reintegration planning phase.  There is no known timeline and the implementation process is expected to be slow and graduated.  We do know that departments still need to reorganize the workplace to among other things, ensure social distancing, cleaning high-touch surfaces, procurement of PPE.  We are also very mindful of the importance of departments and agencies to manage your expectations by providing clear and timely communications.  


If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your local health and safety representative whose name should appear on your departmental intranet or your local GC representative.