Employer Readiness: 10 Tips to Prepare for Potential Work Refusals

As employers, we have been asked to address a range of new requests from employees as a result of the pandemic – and this will only continue as we prepare to return to on-site work. Team members are expressing health fears, general anxiety, concern for their loved ones, care giving challenges, transportation issues, among many more. We can get ready now to reduce the potential influx of “work refusals”.

Here are some tips to get started:

1 – Gain Management Commitment, and Prepare your Management Team.

COVID-19 has introduced new legal requirements for employers, new job-protected leaves for employees (see the attached addendum for more information), as well as new safety and wellness requirements. It’s essential for managers to understand and abide by:

  • Health and safety legislation and their role in keeping employees physically Under Ontario’s labour laws, employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers, which includes protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases. Read more about the Occupational Health and Safety Act as it relates to COVID-19.
  • Taking a human rights-based approach to managing COVID-19 policies and procedures. The Ontario Human Rights Commission released a policy that states: “Both public- and private-sector organizations must recognize their human rights obligations, and consider the potential disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on the vulnerable groups they employ or serve. These vulnerable groups include Indigenous and racialized peoples, people with disabilities, older people living alone or in institutions, and low-income communities who have unequal access to health care, childcare and/or are often underemployed.

2 – Prepare (or modify) your Pandemic Plan, including your Return-to-Work Plan.

Outline how your organization is monitoring the situation, identity who is on your Pandemic Response Team and how you’re complying with the safety guidelines set out by local public health agencies, Public Health Ontario and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Share your plan with employees and leaders. Keep updating it with best practices and new ideas to support your organization during this pandemic (for future reference).

To request a copy of our Pandemic Plan, or our Workbook for Return to Work, email HRTopics@excelHR.com.

3 – Create a dedicated COVID-19 Health and Safety (H&S) Team,

The COVID-19 Health and Safety Team will be dedicated to the following responsibilities:

  • Making changes to the physical office space (to adhere to social distancing requirements);
  • Working with property management to understand the safety protocols and requirements in common spaces;
  • Procuring PPE and cleaning products;
  • Collecting Return-to-Work (RTW) medical questionnaires;
  • Training employees on the new H&S measures being introduced;
  • Auditing H&S measures;
  • Answering questions and addressing concerns regarding physical safety;
  • Conducting investigations should a work refusal occur;
  • Handling symptomatic on-site employees OR employees who become ill after they’ve returned to work.

4 – Update your Existing Health & Safety Policy.

Be sure to include all new policies and procedures introduced as a result of COVID-19. This includes, but is not limited to, the responsibilities of the H&S team as listed above. (Note that this can be an addendum to your existing policy)

It’s important to note that the Ministry of Labour is investigating all complaints related to workplace health and safety under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Ministry of Labour is working closely with the Ministry of Health and Public Health Ontario to provide support, advice and enforcement, as needed. If you face a work refusal, you will be required to show your COVID-19 related H&S policies.

Here is an overview of the Work Refusal Process, as outline by the Ministry of Labour.

5 – Develop Health & Safety training pertaining to Return-to-Work.

Training for leaders and employees will be crucial to maintain safety protocols as people return to working on-site. Best practices for effective training includes PowerPoint or graphic presentation of safety protocols, videos displaying how to move and behave back in the office, and written training with a quiz to ensure retention of information.  Training elements should include:

  • Personal risk assessment (i.e. identifying high risk points, such as the employee’s commute, vulnerable family members, points of community exposure)
  • What to expect upon their return to on-site work (i.e. changes to the physical workspace, PPE requirements, etc.)
  • Physical safety measures (i.e. how to properly wear and use PPE, personal hygiene, use of common areas, etc.)
  • Who is on the Safety Team including who to report illness to, who to report unsafe conditions to, and what to expect from the team

6 – Conduct a Return-to-Work (RTW) Employee Survey.

There are varying degrees of excitement, uncertainty and fear surrounding the circumstances of RTW. In your survey, seek input about:

  • Their eagerness to return to work in what format of days and hours
  • How their productivity is from home
  • How their communication with their team and leadership is from home
  • What personal and professional development they have an interest in
  • Concerns about working from home
  • Concerns about working from the office
  • Ideas for the organization going forward, including how to create a great work culture in a remote way

Ideally, the survey would be mandatory, and help build the ideal plan for the company going forward. For a copy of our RTW Survey, email HRTopics@excelHR.com.

7 – Plan a One-on-One Discussion with Each Employee.

While you may already be communicating often and openly with your team members, make this one call just about them and what their personal circumstances are:

  • Do they have babies and elementary school kids at home?
  • How did home schooling go?
  • Do they live with vulnerable family members?
  • How will they be commuting to work?
  • How comfortable are they with using PPE?
  • What are they enjoying about working from home? Etc.

8 – Identify an Employee Wellness Point of Contact.

This may be someone on your HR Team, a good listener who can be a shoulder to lean on during harder days under COVID-19. They would be available to team members struggling with emotional wellness either at home, while in the office, or both. Appointing a neutral party that isn’t a team member’s direct manager may help create engagement around mental health.

9 – Develop a Communication Plan, Schedule it and Share it.

Develop a solid two-way communication plan and put it in your schedule, and the employee’s schedule in advance. Consider pre-scheduling management communication, team communication for the advancement of issues and business, team communication for social and engagement, and one-on-one learning and training.

10 – Know the Law.

Ensure that you know your responsibilities as an employer in finer detail than ever before. Employment laws and legislation related to COVID-19 are changing constantly, and need a continuous review, understanding and implementation. Items to review include:

  • When an employer can and can’t ask for a medical note
  • If and when can you request proof of daycare closures
  • How to address employees in layoff, returning, or being permanently laid off (terminated)
  • How and when an employer can formally request that someone return to work on-site
  • How to manage a Work Refusal
  • What policies employers need in place, and more

 Seeking legal advice is always advisable when human rights and ESA are part of an employer’s response and management of an issue under COVID-19.