Reopening Your Workplace: Welcoming Back Your Employees

As lockdown restrictions begin to lift across the country, many Canadians are looking forward to getting back to business as usual. For many businesses, this entails bringing employees back to the workplace. 

But as a business owner, you’re now faced with a tough question: how do you safely navigate reopening your place of business? Most importantly, how do you bring your employees back in a way that best ensures their comfort and safety?

Luckily, you have options. Exploring vaccination policies or continuing remote work, there’s no one way to return to the workplace. As such, we’ve outlined some guidelines and considerations you can explore in order to help your employees – and your business at large – hit the ground running. 

Communicate Your Reopening Timelines 

After almost 15 months of working remotely, business owners will need to have a solid plan for bringing employees back to the workplace. Establishing clear communication lines with your employees will be critical. 

Communicate your reopening plans with your employees early and often. Make sure they know your planned reopening date well in advance, and be sure to encourage feedback and questions. Being open to these conversations will be critical, especially for employees who may have concerns, worries, or individual considerations they need to address. 

Issues surrounding health and safety compliance demand a sound Human Resources system – if you’re looking for help in this area of your business, explore PaymentEvolution’s HX. Our flexible service can help your business navigate through these issues as they arise. 

Everyone will need — and appreciate — the time to set new personal arrangements if necessary. 

Can Employees Refuse to Come Back? 

In Canada, it’s within an employee’s right to refuse work if they have concerns regarding the health and safety precautions in the workplace. With that being said, it all boils down to whether the employee can safely perform their duties, reasonably speaking. 

Consider the role your employee plays in your organization, and if that role will require additional safety measures. 

For example, a front-facing worker might require a plexiglass barrier when interacting with customers; another employee may need personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks or gloves in order to safely complete their work.  

If there is an official investigation into workplace safety, you may be required to offer alternative work to your employee without a pay reduction, such as assigning other duties or continuing remote work, if possible. 

Ultimately, you want to ensure that your employees feel comfortable returning to work. 

Setting a Vaccination Policy 

As an employer, you often have responsibilities that overlap: you must respect your employee’s privacy, but you must also ensure the health and safety of everyone else in your place of business. 

Should you mandate a vaccination policy?

Think about your business, and the role your employees play within the physical space. Do your employees regularly interact with new people? Do they work in close proximity to each other? 

Answering these questions will help you arrive at a decision that benefits your business at large.  

Do Employees Legally Need to Be Vaccinated? 

There are no official guidelines on demanding employees be vaccinated. 

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not your business should have a mandatory vaccination policy is up to you. 

While you should take every precaution toward maintaining the health and safety of those around you, you also have an obligation to not discriminate against or hinder someone from being gainfully employed.  

If an employee refuses the vaccine, or won’t disclose their vaccination status, you’ll have to carefully consider your options. This could entail extending work-from-home accommodations for the employee. Unfortunately, it could also entail constructive dismissal if the safety of the employee and your workplace cannot be guaranteed.  

Continuing Remote Work  

Of course, you may have found that your business ran effectively with your employees working remotely. 

There are many reasons as to why a business would choose to continue to enforce remote work. With an entirely remote workforce, you could downsize — or even eliminate — your physical workspace, saving on overhead costs. It’s also an enticing perk when attracting new employees – many individuals are enjoying the flexibility remote work affords them. 

At the end of the day, the choice of when, and how, to bring your employees back is unique for every business. 

Implementing a Hybrid Working Model 

For some businesses, finding a happy medium can offer employees the best of both worlds. 

Rather than bringing back all your employees to the office, your business could implement a hybrid working model: limiting the number of employees in physical space on certain days while everyone else works remotely.  

With a rotating schedule, your employees have the flexibility of working from home a few days a week, while still allowing time for the collaborative work that happens when people are face-to-face.  

As you can see, there are a variety of options to explore – by prioritizing the well-being of your employees and the practices that will help your business thrive moving forward, you can determine the best course of action for your company. 

In the following installment of this series, we’ll explore the steps you’ll need to take to make sure your physical place of business remains safe for everyone when reopening. Stay tuned.