Frequently Asked Questions about the pandemic
Sick Leave "Top-Up" for COVID-19 - NEW
Masks in the Workplace - Updated
Home office tax benefits - Updated
Overwork due to family status
Remote work equipment
Impacts on contract workers
Return to the workplace
What if I test positive for COVID-19 and do not have enough sick days to cover my recovery?
- AMAPCEO members in the Ontario Public Service (OPS) who test positive for COVID-19 and for whom a 14-day self-isolation period off work would result in a loss of pay are eligible for top-up payments from the OPS Employer.
- Members must provide confirmation of their diagnosis to the Employer and first use their available paid sick leave (or attendance credits, for fixed-term employees) to cover their time off. Top-up payments are to ensure that members maintain the income they would have received based on regular attendance.
- This provision was first negotiated by the union and the OPS Employer early in the pandemic and has now been extended until June 30, 2021.
- For more information, please see the Memorandum of Agreement.
How do I discuss an employment accommodation with my manager?
- If you have been working remotely, or in an OPS worksite, and will be returning to the OPS workplace, COVID may present challenges for which you may allow you to access employment accommodation. If you believe you qualify for a workplace accommodation, it is best to start the conversation with your manager as early as possible.
- Accommodations can be granted for health-related accommodations, family status accommodation, and other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
- Employment accommodation is an individual process where you meet with your employer to prevent, remote or mitigate barriers in the workplace, provided it can be done without hardship to the employer.
- If you feel you may need an employment accommodation and you are unsure you qualify, starting the process is as easy. Reach out to your manager about having a conversation related to employment accommodation and reason for it. If you do not make this request via email, be sure to make personal notes and record the date.
- There are many ways to start this conversation. Some examples given in the OPS GROW plan include:
- “I am experiencing challenges with returning to the workplace and balancing childcare obligations.”
- “I feel that I am struggling with feelings of isolation during remote work.”
- “I am concerned about returning to the workplace because I have a health condition that makes me particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.”
- “It would help if…”
- During the conversation, identify the challenge(s) and your sought accommodation. You may be presented with an alternative or be expected to talk through another possible solution. Managers may request supporting health documentation from a healthcare professional.
- If you feel you might like support for this conversation, please feel free to contact an AMAPCEO Workplace Rep.
- If your manager will not discuss accommodations with you, or you feel your accommodation has been unfairly rejected, please reach out to a Workplace Rep at amapceo.on.ca/workplace-reps
How do I know if my office’s HVAC building is adequately equipped to stop the spread of the virus?
- For members of the OPS, page 14 of Employer’s GROW Module 1 includes details of what steps will be taken to improve different HVAC systems in provincially-owned buildings
- AMAPCEO has provided all local Health and Safety Representatives with tools to help them assess whether local workplaces are complying with the GROW and best practices, including increasing ventilation and HVAC operation
- For questions and concerns regarding the precautions being taken in your local workplace, contact a Health & Safety Rep at amapceo.ca/health
I usually commute via public transit but am uncomfortable doing so during the pandemic. Am I still required to attend the office?
- The employer is not responsible for your transportation or parking expenses.
- Commitments to stagger start and stop times in the office are being offered as a means of mitigating transit volume.
- Talk to your manager about using an earlier or later start time to avoid peak commuting times.
- In some Ministries, you may be able to work at another government office if it would lessen your commute on public transit. If this option has been communicated to your Ministry, submit a request to your manager.
- If you or a family member are immunocompromised, it might be possible to receive an accommodation to temporarily continue to work from home full time. If it is for you, it is a personal health accommodation and if it is for a dependent, then it’s a family status accommodation.
Are we expected to wear masks in the workplace?
- Face coverings are mandatory in common spaces within indoor workspaces, including elevators, kitchen areas, washrooms, and lobbies.
- Common spaces include areas where you might run into colleagues, your manager, tenants of other offices, and members of the public
- All employees, and employers, must adhere to any measures set out by government directives and/or local public health units.
- Ministries can contact their local public health unit to determine how their requirements apply to them and their workspaces.
How will the 30% capacity limit be implemented -- is it based on the building or floor?
- The 30% figure that we see quoted in Gradual Re-Opening of OPS Workplaces (GROW) is an across the board average, not an exact statistic for every office.
- Some buildings and floors may be able to safely accept more or less than 30% capacity based on factors like enclosed offices and adequate separated space.
- Regardless of the capacity, every office will be required to follow the same safety standards to protect employees.
- Although there is a degree of individualism based on building and floor, the 30% figure is roughly what can be expected.
Will Compressed Work Week (CWW) arrangements be restarted automatically or do these have to be established in writing?
- CWWs are still in use in many ministries, divisions, branches, and units.
- Management did have the right to dissolve these arrangements when remote work was undertaken if they thought it was significant to their operation. Some did and some did not.
- Members can ask to have them reinstated at any time or wait until normalcy is declared and ask then.
- A reminder that management has the right to deny use of a CWW if they believe it is an operational impairment. So, while you can ask to have one reinstated, to improve your chance be prepared to make the case that your CWW isn’t an impairment when working remotely. If you feel you have been wrongfully denied resumption of your CWW please contact an AMAPCEO Workplace Rep at amapceo.on.ca/workplace-reps or email email@example.com and request to be connected with a Workplace Advisor.
- To try to establish a new CWW, fill out our form at amapceo.on.ca/flexwork and as noted, be prepared to make your case as to why it will work while you’re offsite at a remote location.
If case numbers worsen is it possible that Gradual Re-Opening of OPS Workplaces (GROW) will be slowed-down or halted?
Update: January 2021: GROW has been temporarily suspended.
Would it be reasonable to negotiate flexibility to work from home when children are ill and need to be home for up to 14 days? and I am not immunocompromised, but I live with someone who is. Can I see an accommodation?
- A health accommodation is meant to apply to an individual employee’s wellness. Family status accommodations apply to one’s family members personal care if dependent and to their health if vulnerable or susceptible
- If a family member is vulnerable or susceptible to infection from a member attending the workplace, or if a dependent were to have to quarantine for a period of time, then a case could be made for the member to work remotely either temporarily or on a long-term basis.
- The Employer has expressed a great degree of empathy at the heart of the GROW process. They have also agreed to greater flexibility in accommodations language during the pandemic. AMAPCEO believes short and long term accommodations can be achieved, but we need our members to make their case for the accommodations at the local level first. In doing so, members should cite the Employers commitments to empathy and flexibility and if necessary, educate local managers on GROW guidelines and senior management directives.
- Accommodations are not an absolute, however, and AMAPCEO will intervene where influence might bring resolution. Failing that, in instances where the union believes denial to be unreasonable, AMAPCEO will work with you to file a formal dispute.
Since I'm working from home, will I qualify for home office tax credits?
UPDATE: It has been reported that there will be new protocols for tax credits for working from home.
- Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has announced a temporary flat rate method to work from home expenses, in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Under this temporary method, eligible employees can claim $2 for each day you worked from home due to the pandemic, to a maximum of $400.
- You are not required to keep documents to support your claim and are not required to obtain your Employer’s sign off on a T2200/T2200S form.
- Regular T2200 process will still be available to those who wish to file a claim for greater expenses. Under this option, eligible employees will require supporting documentation and a signed T2200 or T2200S form.
- Eligibility details can be found at canada.ca/cra-home-workspace-expenses (please consult a qualified personal tax advisor about any implications).
During any crisis, there may be a greater need for overtime. In most instances, for an hour or two a day or up to ten hours a week. Anything beyond that on a regular basis should be addressed by greater staffing.
- Overtime rules do not change during a pandemic.
- AMAPCEO has several facts sheets that detail provisions of our collective agreement available at amapceo.on.ca/collective-agreements, including overtime. We encourage all members to review the fact sheets and know your workplace rights.
- You can refuse overtime for several reasons, the most common being non-payment, overwork, (example: if you’re already at 60 hours for the week) illness, or family responsibilities.
The following sub-bullets apply to the OPS and to many of of our BPS units. To ensure it applies to you, please refer to the appropriate collective agreement at amapceo.on.ca/collective-agreements
- If your Manager requests you to work overtime, you may ask in the moment to be paid out for your time. The employer may approve the pay out, ask you to take the time in lieu, or change their mind about requesting overtime. If they offer you time in lieu, it is your decision whether to accept this or not. You can refuse.
- If you request to work overtime, your Manager may consider payment, time in lieu or a denial. If they opt for time in lieu, you have no recourse as you made the request.
The pandemic has caused many things to happen simultaneously, including remote work and the cancellation of school and the closure of childcare facilities all at the same time. What options are available for overwhelmed parents?
- Many of our members are facing the very real pressures of dealing with work and family. The good news is that you have options.
- Ask your manager for a lighter workload. Managers are facing the same pressures and have been given permission to redistribute work for those whose family status is causing them to be overworked.
- Use a credit or two to take part or whole days off to balance your competing demands.
- Request flexible hours of work, perhaps starting earlier or finish later to allow an extended break mid day to attend to other duties. Work longer one day and shorter the next to permit the ability to get dependents to appointments. Even consider trading a weekday for a weekend day if that permits a partner to aid in parenting or home schooling.
- If these options do not work or are denied you, you may ask for a Leave with Pay, wherein you may be approved to stay home without work assignment. It is an option we can pursue, but keep in mind that cases of approval are very, very rare.
What equipment are members entitled to use offsite while working remotely? Can members pick up monitors, keyboards, chairs, or other supplies? If so, how?
When the pandemic started, large numbers of our members were told to work from home in the best interests of their health and safety. Some were not initially approved for remote work but thanks to AMAPCEO’s advocacy many more were provided laptops and VPN access.
After the first few weeks of hammering on the laptop at the dining table, on the couch or in an armchair, those of us not so fortunate to have fully set up home offices began to feel the aches and pains.
- If you have a workplace health accommodation, you are entitled to be provided with the same set up at home or with a suitable alternative.
- For those without accommodations, the ability to transfer certain items to your remote location does exist. Whether it’s a chair, monitor, keyboard, or mouse, in most instances there’s no reason that equipment cannot leave the workplace as long as you seek management’s approval and sign for your items on an inventory form.
- In instances where a formal accommodation is not involved, your manager is not mandated to send you your equipment and you may have to go to your workplace of your own accord and pick things up. Be sure to do so off-peak hours to avoid traffic of all kinds and be sure that your manager is aware and approving of your access to the building.
Many of our members have noticed impacts on job security with other governments at municipal, provincial and federal levels. Some governments have gone as far as to lay off some employees while others have reduced hours of work, introduced job sharing or considered use of leave without pay. With all levels of government spending money more freely to combat economic losses, members are concerned about their own job security. What does AMAPCEO foresee happening?
- While layoffs can never be ruled out, they seem unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future for a few reasons. The sitting government has pledged that there will be no job loss for the course of its mandate and save for a buyout package in early 2019, they’ve honoured that pledge – even during the pandemic.
- Buyout packages combined with the hiring freeze have seen AMAPCEO lose approximately 800 members and the greater public service 5,000 in total. Even before these buyouts, Ontario’s civil service numbers were by far the leanest in the entire country per capita – and so any further reductions would harm the government’s ability to provide fundamental services let alone deliver on their policy changes.
- Other provinces employ far larger per capita workforces than Ontario and so their capability to downsize may very well be greater than ours given they haven’t already shaved their total human resource numbers by 5,000 that Ontario has to date.
- For a government urging business to hang onto as many employees as possible, it would be hypocritical to lay off its own workforce – who would then have less money to spend within the Ontario economy and have no choice but to join the federal government’s unemployment rolls.
- So far, remote work has been not only successful but its also made for a stabilizing force during chaotic times. In fact, the Premier and the President of the Treasury Board have both said as much publicly while rebuffing extreme right-wing journalists being critical of the public service.
- Finally, our job security provisions are solid and well-tested. We employ an approach that permits buyout packages for those who might want to voluntarily leave, pension bridging for those closest to retirement, re-skilling for those displaced, and if necessary, bumping based on seniority as a last resort. Over the past two years, combinations of these provisions have seen almost no true job loss.
Even pre-pandemic, contract workers are our most precarious members. If we had our way, they would be permanent. Temporary employees worry about their job security and converting to permanent roles, first and foremost, and we rely on strong advocacy and trends to try to protect their roles.
- Over the past 20 years, our OPS contract numbers have averaged between 8% to 12% and are presently at 10.5% of our overall membership.
- Over the past two years, contract worker numbers have been consistent. With a loss of only 150 of a total of 1650 over that time, or about 6-7 contract employees per month.
- AMAPCEO believes even one job is too many to lose but leveling off at 1,500 contract workers leaves us confident the majority of our contract workers are safe until permanency is achieved.
- Conversion rates for temporary to permanent jobs are unusually high. This is something we anecdotally associate with the hiring freeze, in that though the freeze is stymying new permanent jobs, it seems to be solidifying contract workers’ roles who remain in place longer and longer – until they convert (if eligible to do so).
- Our advice is to hang in there! If your job has no incumbent, hold on to it. If your job has an incumbent with a timeline to return, be aware of it and apply for other contract or permanent work at every opportunity. Although nerve wracking, it often pays to be well-rounded and capable of filling variable roles. And, given the positive trends noted above, the odds are in your favour in the long run.
Many members have anxiety about returning to the workplace during a pandemic and have been asking about exceptions, and why remote work can’t simply continue indefinitely. On top of concerns about the physical workplaces, many are also worried about transit and physical distancing. What’s AMAPCEO been discussing with the Employer in regard to timing and process?
- The Employer maintains the right to assign your work location. However, your collective agreements allows you the ability to negotiate alternative work arrangements.
- When a return to work begins, all members will have the ability to negotiate alternative work arrangements as per normal. Naturally, AMAPCEO will take a great interest in that process to ensure members are treated equitably.
- Members who can medically substantiate the need to maintain remote work may do so.
- In exceptional cases, we may be able to access compassionate approval for other reasons like sick or susceptible dependents.
- We strongly suspect that no across the board return to the workplace will occur until the province’s childcare systems are back up and running – and if not, anyone in that scenario may be entitled to remote work for family status reasons.
- AMAPCEO is pushing for the longest possible runway for its members working from home to return to the workplace. We’ve strongly suggested that a full return to the workplace could be delayed as long as October, or even year-end.
- Why? Well, because there are so many complex variables for an employer to contemplate and adjust for, including the reinstatement of dependable childcare, safe transport for those who have to use mass transit, and that’s all before our members even reach the office.
- In the workplace, AMAPCEO will be deeply invested in ensuring the employer upholds public health regulations including distancing, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), regular cleaning, the controlling of numbers of people indoors, and so on.
- We believe that a gradual approach is necessary. Every workplace needs to be carefully evaluated before a slow and thoughtful repatriation. Members will need several weeks’ notice to adjust, and every means of flexibility should be considered including flex hours, off peak hours, and teams working alternating shifts of 2-3 days in and 2-3 days remote to name but a few options.
- With the probability of multiple waves to this virus, we continue to encourage the employer to order in all necessary remote work equipment, so that we can prepare to remain at home, or return to home, for as long as necessary.
Can members refuse to work simply because of the pandemic? Can they do so once back in the workplace?
- Once you’ve returned to the workplace, if you feel you’re in an unsafe situation, make your management aware of the circumstance immediately. We strongly recommend you include an AMAPCEO Workplace Rep as soon as possible.
- Your manager is to assess the situation. They have the right to deem it safe and to direct you to return or to replace you with another worker. However, if you have your Workplace Rep with you and they disagree, they can contact AMAPCEO and we can take you out of the equation and protect you both from the hazard and any retribution.
- Normally, a labour inspector would then be called to assess the situation. Often that area of the worksite can simply be avoided until such time as it can be assessed, and other work can carry on elsewhere. If when our Workplace Rep attends no grounds to claim unsafe work can be found, then you and other workers can be reassigned the task by your manager.
- Remember that there are thousands of essential service workers currently in the workplace and that they are functioning in safe fashion.
- Simply being in the workplace and in proximity to others is not reason enough to refuse work; to do so can be subject to discipline.
- Likewise, if you’re directed to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and/or to take other public health mandated precautions in the workplace, failure to do so can also leave you subject to discipline.
- AMAPCEO has many fact sheets available to members on our website that outline specific aspects of the collective agreement (like overtime in a previous question). We encourage you to familiarize yourself with the unsafe work sheets for your unit at amapceo.on.ca/collective-agreements