Return To Work – Post COVID-19

Feb 7, 2022

Employer Requirements for “Return to Work”

So, the COVID-19 pandemic is almost over, or is it? Every time we believe we’re close to the end and start making plans for returning to normal, it appears that a new disruption shows up and brings us back to lockdowns, continued remote work, virtual schooling, etc.

At some point we will be at the end of the pandemic or at the end of our capacity for restrictions and learn to live with the virus. However, the last 2 years have taught us how to be more resilient, conservative and understand our rights and obligations in an ever-changing environment.

Many employers have drafted their own “Return to Work” policies and processes over the past few months, but these have been delayed due to the rise in cases. 

Prior to allowing employees to return to work, employers are required to implement the following policies and procedures to govern and manage the safety of their employees:

  • Limit the number of employees and others in the workplace based on government guidelines.
  • Encourage physical distancing at work based on health authority guidelines.
  • Limit physical contact and minimizing interpersonal interactions where possible.
  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to employees such as face masks, gloves and eye protection depending on the work requirements. 
  • Worker and workplace hygiene including regular disinfection of high traffic areas.
  • Prevent potentially sick employees from being at work.
  • Evaluate the policies and procedures regularly.
  • Implement process for employees who travelled outside the country.
  • Undertake periodic Antigen (rapid) testing of employees.


Employer Obligations

Employer policies and practices must address the following accommodations:

  • Fairness based on the employee’s situation and in accordance with human rights commissions. 
  • Sensitivity to the conditions affecting the employee’s ability to return to work based on a personal situation which may be caregiver and / or health concern.
  • Assurance to all employees indicating their commitment to keeping all staff safe.



Employee Rights

Employees have some rights to protect themselves and their loved ones from the risk of catching COVID-19. Depending on their specific hesitation and situation, employees have rights as illustrated below:


Higher risk employees (health)

Employee can disclose that they are at a higher risk due to a medical condition (without disclosing any personal details or sensitive medical information)


Higher risk employees (personal safety)

Employee is at higher risk working from home due to a personal situation.


Employees with childcare issues or caring for a sick relative

Employee can be allowed to work from home, and / or eligible for paid leave in accordance with the employer’s existing contracts, policies and practices.


Employees concern about workplace safety

Employer must have the appropriate channels for the employee to report the hazard to the employer and the employer must take any necessary corrective action in a timely manner to address the reported hazard.


Employees entitlement to statutory leaves of absence

Employees who are ill, need to self-isolate or care for someone who has had to self-isolate may be entitled to a leave of absence pursuant to applicable employment standards legislation.


Some Coping Strategies

It is expected that there will be some discomfort and concerns with COVID-19 still rampant around the world and emergence of new variants periodically.

Outlined below are some strategies to ease the transition back to the office:

  • Ask the relevant questions and voice concerns to leadership and the HR functions to get the information you need to feel comfortable.
  • Listen to expectations from the organization and understand the intent of the recommendations for staying, and helping others stay safe.
  • Understand your personal motivation for returning to work on-site (sense of purpose, human contact, personal fulfillment, financial benefit).
  • Stay focused on what’s you can control and manage the new normal.
  • Find someone you can talk to when you’re feeling anxious about being back in the office.

“Return to Work” in the time of COVID-19 can be very stressful for various reasons. There are many guidelines, rules and regulations and with all this confusion at times with all the changes based on variants. It is imperative that every employee evaluates their situation and determines the best course of action based on what works for them, their family and their employer.

Additional Guidance

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