Return to work: Managing employee requests

Earlier this week in southern Alberta, workers at the Cargill meat plant attemptedto prevent its reopening, saying the vast majority feared returning. “No Canadian worker should at any time feel forced to work in unsafe conditions », said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

With businesses reopening, many employees are worried and wondering if they have the right to come back. In such a context, how can their requests be managed?

Managing worker concerns is one of your responsibilities as an employer.You must be impeccable in terms of standards and security measures. We remind you that an employee who does not feel safe can call Labor Standards and that an investigation will be carried out. If the employer was negligent, employees will then be able to access compensation. This means that no one wins from negligence.

You must therefore question yourself and involve your health and safety committee to determine whether refusing to return to work is justified.If there is no risk (rigorous health measures, no sick people on the site), you can reassure your employees about the safety of the place.

It is in your best interest to listen to employee requests. According to Mélanie Gauthier, CRHA and HR Consultant at Iceberg Management: “You have to have an iron fist in a velvet glove to handle this kind of situation. We understand the employee’s fears and we must show empathy”.

If employees have dependents, allow them to maintain teleworking and non-standard hours. if you can notreallyno longer operate remotely after reopening, you can authorize a gradual return to the workplace. The part-time and the unpaid leave are among the possible options.The four-day week, with or without a reduction in hours, is also an option to consider.

When you remind your employee that the leave has ended and the workplace has reopened, it is not possible for an employee to refuse to work, while still receiving benefits. The employer will be entitled to consider that this is a form of misconduct, such as absenteeism, or sometimes resignation, meaning the worker would lose their job and any benefits they currently receive.

Indeed, Mélanie Gauthier, CRHA concludes: “We want to do everything to resolve the employee’s fears upstream. But you must be firm about returning on the scheduled date, otherwise disciplinary measures could apply (absent without justification) up to and including dismissal. The manager must be in control of the situation”.

Questions for our experts? Try our HR helpline: 514-394-1094

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