When the pandemic hit over a year and a half ago, we were forced to hit reset on how we work and figure out new ways to meet, collaborate, and get sh*t done. Working from home created a new frontier. Some of us hated it, some of us (including me) love it, and some wish they could return to the workplace, but only a few times per week.

Now that many Canadians are on their way to being fully vaccinated, we wanted to know how HR and Payroll professionals are really feeling about the transition back to the workplace? To find out, we conducted a Returning to the Workplace survey within our network.

The results weren’t as cut and dry as you might think. COVID-19 has created a lot of questions and issues that have crossed all boundaries including our political, economic, and personal spaces.

What are the hot button issues?

Vaccinations – Can employers make them mandatory?

Vaccinations have become highly politicized and now the debate is coming to our workplaces. Here’s the thing, there are currently no Canadian laws or government guidelines that mandate or regulate vaccination for any Canadian workforce. Some employers have attempted to request mandatory vaccines in high-risk settings, like healthcare, but this pandemic is uncharted territory.

Can employers encourage vaccinations?

Employers can encourage their employees to sign up for government-regulated vaccines, but very few are taking the risk of actually requiring individuals to be vaccinated.

Organizations that attempt to make vaccinations mandatory could face human rights, privacy, or other civil litigation claims from employees. This puts employers in the position to avoid mandating vaccination until the government is clearer about regulations.

Employers still have a duty to keep their workplaces safe. They can’t turn a blind eye to COVID-19, which could put their workforce at risk. Rather than attempting to make vaccinations mandatory, it’s a better strategy for employers to highly recommend and encourage vaccination by providing educational materials to their employees.

Companies with a higher-risk rate (meat-packing plants, healthcare, oilfield workers, etc.) may need to go a step further to speak with their municipal or provincial government to request the set up of on-site vaccination clinics, or host medical experts to speak to employees in their language (which could mean in employee native languages or presenting the information in a clear and easy to understand manner, in other words, not technical medical speak).

Employee safety

On top of it all, employers must make considerations for the same safety procedures we’ve been following for the past year and a half. Masks, social distancing, and workplace cleanliness are still top priorities.

And there’s still the question of employees who are feeling ill or returning from trips abroad. When in doubt, of course, it’s still advisable for any ill employee to stay home. But do the standards differ between immunized and unimmunized workers?

Have more questions on this topic?

Learn from people who understand employees and Canadian employment law best by watching this episode of Office Hours with Avanti on Returning to the Workplace.

Hybrid work models

At the time of writing, less than 50% of our respondents had returned to their workplace. In fact, most respondents plan on making some type of transition in the fall. It has a very back-to-school feel, doesn’t it? Once summer’s over, we’re going to get serious about this. The question is, what are the new policies? Do you dive right back into a mandatory on-site work model? (If that’s how you were doing it pre-COVID) Or, do you offer a hybrid work model to employees who prefer some flexibility? At Avanti, we have a distributed work model, which essentially means employees have the flexibility to work in a physical location that best suits them, wherever that may be.

Impending labour shortages

It’s remarkable how COVID-19 has reshaped the business landscape. Before the pandemic struck, many companies were looking into the possibilities of remote work opportunities, but after being forced to make the transition (quickly), the winds of change ushered in a new way of working that, well, worked. And this experience is sticking with the employees who like it.

That’s why it isn’t shocking that employees intend on looking for work elsewhere if mandated to be back in the office full-time. This year has caused burnout but has also given people a chance to evaluate their life. For some, the idea of returning back to the workplace with commutes adding hours to days, plus the additional costs of food, childcare, and transportation is too much. How can I pop in a load of laundry in between meetings if I’m at work? Convenience has improved many lives.

As the Canadian economy emerges from COVID-19 restrictions and workers begin to return to the workplace, experts are forecasting a wave of employee resignations that could trigger labour shortages in many sectors. It’s already happening in the U.S.

Many unknowns remain

Whether you’re navigating your way back to the office, remaining in your home, or find yourself somewhere in between, one thing is for certain: Nothing is certain.

COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work and the rippling effects of the worldwide pandemic will remain with us for years to come. The best we can do as employers and employees is to follow the rules put in place by health officials and help to protect each other.

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