Many Canadian employers are starting to implement their return-to-the-workplace plans this fall. But with rising COVID cases and the added stress of the COVID variants, the transition is becoming more challenging.
For example, Ontario has implemented a vaccine certification mandate, meaning that proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required to access nonessential businesses in Ontario as of Sept. 22, 2021. And Toronto’s medical officer of health recently announced that all Toronto businesses need to have a workplace vaccination policy (WVP) in place.
It’s a lot for employers to manage. Whether you’re transitioning back to the office now or sometime in the future, here are three key questions you should consider to help ensure an effective return-to-work strategy:
Question #1: What is your vaccination policy?
We are seeing more and more Canadian employers—including some of Canada’s largest financial institutions, corporations and insurance companies—make vaccination mandatory for their employees. But the topic can be divisive, and there are a lot of nuances around implementation.
- What is your workforce policy on vaccination, and have you clearly communicated it to employees?
- If you decide to mandate vaccination…
- Will you require self-attestation or proof of vaccinated status? If you are using self-attestation, what are the consequences for providing false information? If you are asking for proof, how will you collect and store this information while also addressing employees’ privacy concerns?
- If you decide not to mandate vaccination…
- Will you require regular COVID testing for unvaccinated employees? If yes, will you facilitate access and/or make it available on site? How will you handle potential interactions between vaccinated and non-vaccinated staff (including any concerns relating to harassment, bullying and personal safety)?
Question #2: How will you support the health and safety of your employees on site?
It’s important to remember that health and safety isn’t just physical; it’s psychological as well. As we see COVID cases rise in many places across the country, employees may be anxious about returning to the physical workplace and resuming in-person interactions. Employers need to think about the possible impacts on workers’ physical and mental health, and how best to support them.
- What is your transition plan? Are you planning to bring everyone back at once or use a phased approach?
- If it’s not already required by your province or type of business, will you require employees to wear a mask while indoors?
- If yes, will mask-wearing apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees? How will you enforce it?
- If no, what additional measures will you put in place to ensure a physically and psychologically safe environment for everyone?
- What are your general hygiene practices on site (physical distancing, handwashing/hand sanitizers, ventilation, surface cleaning, etc.)?
- What is your protocol if there is a COVID outbreak at your workplace? Do the staff involved fully understand their role and what they need to do?
- What resources are available to support employees’ mental and emotional health, both during and after the transition? Do employees know how to access them?
Question #3: What are your policies and practices around remote/hybrid work?
Research shows employees are looking for more flexibility, and many employers are responding by implementing some type of flexible or hybrid work model. But after more than a year of working remotely during a pandemic, employers need to be clear about their expectations.
- What is your remote work policy? Have you clearly communicated it to employees?
- If you are unable (or unwilling) to have employees work remotely, how will you address employees’ overall desire for flexibility and control over their workday?
- What tools and resources are available to help your people leaders manage remote, on-site and/or hybrid teams? How will you support them so they can support others?
It’s becoming increasingly clear that COVID could be with us for some time. It’s no easy task, but employees and employers will have to work together to find ways to navigate the new world of work. And this is a time when communication is critical: for the transition to be successful, everyone needs to be on the same page.
[Related Reading: Returning to the Workplace? Don’t Lose Sight of Your People Leaders]
Director, Education and Outreach – Canada
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