Which employees are exempt from returning to the worksite?

There is room for flexibility, one study suggests

Which employees are exempt from returning to the worksite?

Nearly half of employers in Canada have begun to introduce COVID-19 safety measures to some degree – but only less than 10% feel ‘fully prepared’ and confident about returning to the worksite.

New findings from the Conference Board of Canada show 48% of businesses are ‘somewhat prepared’ to shift back into a shared working environment once stay-at-home orders ease.

READ MORE: Is your team ready to return to the office?

Certain sectors are now getting ready to call back their teams. In transportation, warehousing and logistics, for instance, three in five employers (58%) say they will soon require remote employees to report back to work in a physical location.

“For employees returning to workplaces, safety will be paramount,” said Allison Cowan, director of human capital at the Conference Board of Canada. The virus, she said, might still “find loopholes” despite how rigorous a company’s safety protocols might be.

“Employers will need to continually adapt, and this could include bringing employees back and then having to close workplaces again,” she said.

For teams required to be on site, there is room for flexibility. Respondents say they are willing to exempt the following from returning to the office:

  • Employees with a high risk of falling critically/severely ill if they contract the virus (96%)
  • Employees with family care duties (86%)
  • Employees with household members:
    • facing a high risk of falling critically/severely ill if they contract the virus (84%)
    • working as frontliners during the pandemic (60%)
  • Employees who do not feel comfortable returning to the worksite (51%)
  • Employees who face difficulties commuting to work because of current social distancing measures (50%)

The decision to call workers back to the worksite also comes with a range of guidelines:

  • 61% of employers will monitor movement within company premises
  • 55% will call workers back on site in phases
  • 39% will limit the number of workers operating on site

READ MORE: Canadian employers focus on the road ahead after COVID-19

Developing a remote work policy
Some companies (27%) are also open to letting employees decide on their own work settings – whether they’ll remain on a work-from-home status permanently; work on site full time; or shift between arrangements periodically. Meanwhile, other companies (30%) say they will enable their teams to work remotely full time.

“Employers have a general duty to take every reasonable precaution to ensure the safety of a worker,” said Kim Condon, Senior Legal Research Associate at Blue J Legal, who spoke with HRD.

“Employers should strongly consider implementing a written policy on remote work if they do not have one already,” she said. “The policy should address such matters as to who is allowed to or required to work from home, acceptable and unacceptable use of remote access systems, protection of privileged or confidential information, and consequences for non-compliance.”

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