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Workplace Accommodation Requests for Returning to the Office

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As governments continue to review their lockdown plans, workplaces all across Canada are preparing to reopen. While provincial rules are creating guidelines, employers are evaluating what the workplace will have to look like.

Many business leaders are reassessing their ability to comply with government rules. Some feel they may need to be even more strict about the rules they adhere to. For example, the Government of Ontario’s current rule on gathering is a maximum of 10 people. You and your employees might prefer to keep groups even smaller where possible.

If that’s the case, you’ll need to carefully consider your preparations. You must be ready to adapt as government rules continue to change. While most people hope for the continued relaxation of rules, it’s a good idea to be ready to implement stricter measures as well.

This guide will help you prepare to accommodate employees as they return to work.

Review Government Rules

The first step in preparing for employees to return to work is to review the government-mandated rules. In Ontario, most areas of the province moved to stage two of lifting lockdown in mid-June. Some places were still in stage one, though, which caused some confusion among employers on what rules to follow.

Additionally, some local governments imposed their own rules. Many jurisdictions have implemented the mandatory wearing of face masks by both employees and customers in “commercial spaces.”

This language can be confusing. Is your business a “commercial space” or “place of business”? You do business there, but do you invite your clients in? If customers aren’t coming in, do your employees need to be wearing masks?

The answer might seem to be yes in this case. In other areas, employers might want to mandate masks for employees, even if the government hasn’t. Employers may also prefer to leave it up to their employees.

Keep in mind that government rules can change quickly, so your current preparations might be insufficient by the time your employees return to work. Being prepared and knowing how you want to move forward is key.

Creating Your Own Policies and Assessing Your Space

The next step is to think beyond government rules. These policies create a foundation you must follow to open, but they also represent the “bare minimum.” They don’t represent everything you could be doing.

Your employees may also voice some concerns. Many people feel lockdown is lifting too quickly and worry that it might not be safe to return to a workplace meeting just the minimum requirements.

You want your team members to feel safe coming to the office. You may opt to provide or require masks for employees, even if your area says this isn’t necessary. You could also limit the number of people in the office, even if the government says groups of 10 or 50 are acceptable at some point.

This may mean allowing remote work and shifting some employees to part-time remote arrangements. Employees could split shifts or work in the office only on certain days.

Next, assess your own space. Is it practical to have 10 people in the office at the same time? Is it possible for those people to distance themselves? You should work to ensure your employees can maintain proper distance from each other. That might mean limiting the number of people or rearranging work stations.

Finally, be sure to provide personal protective equipment, sanitizers and cleaners, and other items as needed.

Be Ready to Switch Gears

As you prepare to return to work, you should examine your plans with an eye to flexibility. Government rules are still evolving, and there’s a good chance that they will be revised again soon. The hope is that restrictions will continue lifting, but there is the possibility new changes will tighten the rules instead. Employers will do well to make sure their office is prepared to handle those changes as smoothly as possible and keep their employees safe and healthy.

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