FAQ on COVID-19

The Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) has developed a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on COVID-19.  

Global Affairs Canada (GAC) has created the following FAQs to complement the TBS COVID-19 FAQs. For locally engaged staff (LES)the FAQs below are relevant. However, please note that given the difference in LES terms and conditions of employment from country to country, there may be local variation.  

Reporting to work 

1. Am I expected to report to work in the context of COVID-19? 

The health, safety and well-being of federal public service employees across the country are of the highest importance to the Government of Canada. GAC employees should work from home, if possible. The management team will determine whose presence is required in the office and who should work off site, both in Canada and abroad. Management will make decisions with view to maintaining our operations while acting responsibly to protect the health of our employees and our communities. 

If you have travelled abroad, please consult Coronavirus (COVID-19)—GAC’s response for the latest advice from health authorities. 

Change of workplace 

2. In the event of an emergency, can managers require employees to perform tasks outside of their regular duties or work at a location outside their Headquarters area? 

Management has the right to assign duties as deemed necessary. Every step should be taken to ensure that, when employees are asked to perform a task, they are: 

  • properly trained to perform the assigned duties 
  • delegated appropriate authority 
  • provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment (if applicable) 
  • not put at undue risk 
  • maintaining their current salary level if the reassigned duties are at a lower classification level 
  • adequately compensated if the reassigned duties are at a higher classification level 

When an employee requires a workplace accommodation or has one in place, management must consider it in the tasks the employee is required to perform. 

3. If an employee is asked to report to another work location within their Headquarters area (that is, within 16 km of the employee’s workplace), will the department pay for parking? 

The National Joint Council Travel Directive applies to travel within the employee’s Headquarters area. 

Before the employee travels, the manager must authorize the mode of transportation (for example, bus, taxi or private vehicle), with decisions based on cost, duration, convenience, safety and practicality. 

When an employee is authorized to use their private vehicle, parking will be reimbursed as follows: 

  • If the temporary change in work location will last less than 30 consecutive calendar days, parking will be reimbursed 
  • If the temporary change in work location will last 30 calendar days or more: 
  • parking is not reimbursed if the employee received 30 calendar days prior notice of the change in workplace 
  • parking is reimbursed for a maximum of 60 calendar days 
  • If the temporary change is for an unknown period and no notice has been provided, parking is reimbursed for a maximum of 60 calendar days 

For additional information, managers and employees may refer to sections 1.9 and 3.1.11 and appendixes B and C of the National Joint Council Travel Directive.  

4. If an employee is asked to report to another building within their Headquarters area (that is, within 16 km of the employee’s workplace), will the department provide transportation or pay for travel to this new location? 

The duration of the workplace change and the advance notification will determine the travel expenses reimbursed in accordance with the National Joint Council Travel Directive: 

1.9.1 When an employee is asked to report from a permanent workplace to a temporary workplace for a period of less than 30 consecutive calendar days, the provisions of this directive shall apply. 

1.9.2 When an employee is asked to report from a permanent workplace to a temporary workplace, for a period of 30 consecutive calendar days or more, the provisions of this directive shall apply unless the employee is notified, in writing, 30 calendar days in advance of the change in workplace. In situations where the employee is not notified of a change of workplace in writing, the provisions of the directive shall apply for the duration of the workplace change up to a maximum of 60 calendar days. 

If the conditions of section 1.9.2 are not met, transportation will be provided to the temporary workplace or the kilometric rate will be paid for the distance between the home and the temporary workplace, or between the permanent workplace and the temporary workplace, whichever is less. 

Acting pay 

5. When should acting pay be provided to employees? 

Most job descriptions expect employees to perform a certain amount of work as other related duties.” Such work is considered to be at level to the employee’s substantive level. Managers are encouraged to discuss this with their employees and to seek advice from their human resources adviser should the need arise. 

Acting pay should be provided to employees whose managers ask them to perform duties at a level higher than their substantive position. It should be paid for the duration of the acting period, in accordance with the provisions of the applicable collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment for certain excluded or unrepresented employees or with the countryspecific terms and conditions of employment for LES.  

6. Can employees be required to perform duties at a lower level? 

Yes, employees can be required to perform duties at a level lower than their substantive positions. However, they will continue to receive their regular salary for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hours of work 

7. Are managers authorized to change their employees’ hours of work? 

Managers have the right to assign hours of work as set out in the provisions of the applicable collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment for certain excluded or unrepresented employees or in the countryspecific terms and conditions of employment for LES. In addition, as a precautionary measure, management may stagger the hours of work of their employees. Managers should discuss any changes to the hours of work with their employees.  

Managers are also responsible for ensuring that employees are not put at any additional risk as a result of a change in their work schedules. 

8. Can I ask my employee to work on a shiftwork schedule? 

Yes. When scheduling employees to work shifts, management should try to respect the shift work provisions of the applicable collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment for certain excluded or unrepresented employees or of the countryspecific terms and conditions of employment for LES. 

Primarily, this means scheduling employees to work 37.5 hours per week (beyond which overtime may be paid), allowing for 2 consecutive days rest per week, considering the wishes of employees in setting schedules, allow a period of rest between shifts, ensuring schedules are posted as far in advance as possible and considering requests from employees to exchange shifts.   

Please refer to the applicable collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment for certain excluded or unrepresented employees or to the countryspecific terms and conditions of employment for LES. 

Consultation with the bargaining agent is required. Please contact the Human Resources Emergency Response Team at HR-ERT/EIU-RH@international.gc.ca before establishing a shift work schedule.  

Overtime 

9. Can managers require employees to work overtime? 

 Managers have the authority to require that employees work overtime because of operational requirements. In such circumstances, options such as voluntary overtime or standby status should first be considered. If an employee is required or volunteers to work overtime, the applicable collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment for certain excluded or unrepresented employees or of countryspecific terms and conditions of employment for LES would apply.   

10. Is there a limit to the overtime an employee can be asked to perform? 

No. However, managers and supervisors are required to demonstrate due diligence in these situations by taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to ensure the health and safety of their staff.  

In emergencies or exceptional situations where it becomes impossible to avoid staff working long hours, managers should try to allocate the overtime fairly between available employees. Managers should also ensure that employees are given a rest period of at least 8 hours in each 24hour period.  

The manager should also require that employees who have worked several consecutive days or weeks and exceptionally high amounts of overtime take leave so they can rest. Every case will be assessed individually. Managers are encouraged to ensure that employees are allowed to use their accumulated compensatory leave or vacation time.  

As a guide, allocate 1 day of rest for every 3 consecutive days worked. Employees who have worked 21 consecutive days should be required to take at least 7 days of rest. This pattern of 1 day of rest for each 3 consecutive days worked should be encouraged for employees who work fewer than 21 days in a row but more than 5. This rest time ensures the quality of service, reduces the risk of work-related accidents and injuries, and prevents health problems. This recommendation is consistent with section 124 of the Canada Labour Code, which requires every employer to ensure that the health and safety at work of all their employees is protected. 

Employees who are part of an excluded group and who are not entitled to overtime compensation should discuss the matter of rest periods with their managers. The matter of compensation notwithstanding, it is suggested managers follow the pattern recommended above of requiring employees to take 7 days off after 21 consecutive days of work and of applying the ratio of 1 day off for every 3 days worked when employees work fewer than 21 days in a row but more than 5 . 

11. Can managers place their employees on standby? 

Yes. Employees designated by letter or by list for standby duty must be available during their period of standby at a known telephone number and be available to return to duty as quickly as possible if called. 

Managers should refer to the applicable collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment for certain excluded or unrepresented employees or to countryspecific terms and conditions of employment for LES. 

12. When would an employee be entitled to call-back pay? 

Call-back pay is payable when an employee who has completed their workday and left their place of work is called back to work unexpectedly or told during their working hours to come back to work later.  

Managers should ensure that employees called back are paid in accordance with the call-back pay provisions of the applicable collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment for certain excluded or unrepresented employees or of the countryspecific terms and conditions of employment of LES. 

Office closures 

13. What happens to employees in the case of an office closure? 

If a GAC office temporarily closes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all affected employees (including casual workers and students) will continue to be paid for their regularly scheduled hours of work while the office is closed Employees in acting situations at the time of the office closures will continue to be paid at their acting level. 

In the event of a temporary office closure, you are strongly encouraged to consider alternative work arrangements. Employees who have remote access should be encouraged to telework. For those who do not have remote access, training through GCcampus should be considered. 

14. As a manager, if I instruct an employee not to report to work because of an office closure, does the employee have to submit a leave form? 

No. Employees are not required to submit leave forms for periods when management has suspended normal business operations. This applies to term employees, casual workers and students, as well as to indeterminate employees. 

This does not apply to temporary agency personnel and contractors. They should contact their agencies for further information and clarification of their situation. The obligations of the department to the temporary agency or the contractor, if any, must be determined in accordance with the contract for services.  

15. If employees use a daycare located in a government building that is presently closed, will the department reimburse daycare costs? 

No. Daycare costs would not be reimbursed. The employer is not responsible for any costs associated with daycare. In addition, employees are responsible for making alternative daycare arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Alternative work arrangements and telework  

16. Can a manager approve an employee’s request for alternative work arrangements such as a compressed work schedule or flexible hours? 

Yes. Decisions concerning alternative work arrangements should be made in accordance with established departmental practices and the applicable collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment for certain excluded or unrepresented employees or in the country-specific terms and conditions of employment for LES. 

17. Can a manager approve an employee’s request to telework to avoid getting sick? 

Unless advised by key stakeholders (e.g. health authorities, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada) that work-from-home arrangements must be approved, normal business practices are to be followed. As such, managers must review and approve, where appropriate, any request to telework. 

Leave provisions  

18. Should a manager approve leave during a crisis situation? 

Approval of discretionary leave (annual, personal, compensatory) during a crisis should only be granted after careful consideration of operational needs. 

19. Should a manager request that an employee provide a medical certificate to substantiate a request for leave due to illness? 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians may be overwhelmed and unavailable to provide medical certificates to justify absences or return to work. GAC will not require a medical certificate to justify absences due to illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this case, the manager should consult with their employee to determine a time frame for returning to work. 

According to current information provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada, it is believed that the contagious period is for 14 days before the onset of symptoms and continues for approximately 7 days after symptoms have started. The time it takes between being infected and experiencing symptoms is between 2 and 14 days. More research is being done on how long a person can be infectious (i.e. be able to spread the virus to others). 

20. If an employee (asymptomatic) has been asked to self-isolate (e.g. a public health authority contacted them because they were in close contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19), what type of leave should be used? 

Prior to the approval of leave, managers should consider the use of flexible work arrangements (e.g. telework and training through GCcampus), if feasible (i.e. employee has access, employee is able, operational needs allow for it). 

Once flexible work arrangements have been considered, other paid leave will apply.  

21. What type of leave should an employee use to take time off to provide care for a family member who is asymptomatic (i.e. not sick) and in self-isolation? 

Prior to the approval of leave, the manager should consider the following, if feasible (i.e. employee has access, employee is able, operational needs allow for it): 

  • flexible work arrangements (e.g. telework, training through GCcampus or a compressed work schedule) 
  • staggering the hours of work to fall inside or outside the collective agreement provisions (e.g. 7 am to 6 pm for PA group) 

Once the above have been considered, leave with pay for other reasons (code 699) is applicable. 

22. What type of leave should an employee use to take time off to provide care for a family member who is symptomatic (i.e. sick) and in isolation? 

Prior to the approval of leave, the manager should consider the use of flexible work arrangements (i.e. telework, training through GCcampus), if feasible (i.e. employee has access, employee is able, operational needs allow for it). 

Once the above have been considered, leave with pay for other reasons (code 699) is applicable.  

23. Can an employee apply for leave with pay for family-related responsibilities when their child’s daycare or school is closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Prior to the approval of leave, the manager should consider the use of flexible work arrangements (i.e. telework, training through GCcampus), if feasible (i.e. employee has access, employee is able, operational needs allow for it). 

Once the above have been considered, leave with pay for other reasons (code 699) is applicable. 

24. If a manager has approved vacation leave for an employee and the office was subsequently closed (or operations were suspended), does the employee still have to use vacation days? 

Yes. If an employee’s annual leave was previously approved before the building closed down, they had already planned on not reporting to work during that time. Therefore, the employee would not be affected by the office closure. This also applies to any other type of pre-approved leave. 

25. Can an employee be recalled from leave during a pandemic event or situation? 

Yes. If required, the employer can cancel or alter a period of leave (excluding sick leave) that was previously approved in order to address an unforeseen operational need. When the employer cancels or alters a period of vacation, which it has previously approved in writing, the employer shall reimburse the employee for the non-returnable portion of vacation contracts and reservations made by the employee in respect of that period, subject to the presentation of such documentation as the employer may require. The employee must make every reasonable attempt to mitigate such losses. 

26. If leave has already been approved, can it be withdrawn? 

Yes. Management has the authority to cancel leave due to operational requirements. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a manager can decide to cancel annual leave after all other options have been given due consideration. There are provisions in the applicable collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment for certain excluded or unrepresented employees or in the country-specific terms and conditions of employment for LES that the employer may be liable for expenses incurred if annual leave is cancelled. In such a case, the employee must make every reasonable attempt to mitigate losses. Any portion of annual leave not taken is returned to the employee’s leave bank. 

Duty to accommodate  

27. During a pandemic, could a telework situation under a duty to accommodate be affected due to GAC’s IT network infrastructure? 

Yes. To ensure continued service delivery, priority is given to employees who perform a critical function. As such, the manager would be required to review the duty to accommodate situation and determine what, if any, duties the employee could continue to perform without a VPN access (e.g. GCcampus is accessible outside of the departmental network). 

If management determines that all duties of the teleworking employee require remote access and no other alternative solutions to address the accommodation measures are available, the employee would be placed on leave with pay for other reasons (code 699) until the restrictions are lifted. 

28. What are a manager’s responsibilities under the duty to accommodate guidelines? 

The employer has a duty to accommodate employees with limitations or restrictions to ensure their safety and well-being in accordance with GAC’s Guidelines on the Duty to Accommodate in the Workplace. 

Managers should be proactive in encouraging an employee to self-identify if they are at a higher risk than normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to a predisposed medical condition or an identified condition, such as chronic illness or pregnancy. Temporary measures to accommodate the employee must be considered for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Please contact the HR Emergency Response Team at HR-ERT/EIU-RH@international.gc.ca for guidance on any circumstances not covered in the following information.  

29. If an employee comes to their manager identifying that they are at a higher risk than normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to a predisposed medical condition, an immune deficiency, or an identified condition, such as a pregnancy, what should the manager do?  

Managers should follow the 5-step process for identifying the employee’s limitations and possible solutions described below:  

1. Assess the employee’s risk and accommodate when necessary  

  • Request that the employee consult their family doctor or a qualified health professional if they do not know the extent of their risk or ways to reduce risk.  
  • Discuss with the employee the preventive practices set out in this guide.  

2. Gather relevant information and assess solutions  

  • Request, if necessary, additional information.  
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians may be overwhelmed and unavailable to provide medical certificates to justify absences, understand functional limitations or return to work. GAC will not require a medical certificate to justify absences due to illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

3. Make an informed decision  

  • Now that the situation has been defined and assessed, a decision must be made. Steps 1 and 2 will help determine the criteria and boundaries for the decision. 
  • Respond immediately by implementing ways to reducing the risk, such as alternative work arrangements or reducing the amount of contact the employee may have with clients. These deliberations should be considered in collaboration with the employee. 

4. Communicate the decision  

  • Identify any implications or issues that may affect the employee’s team or work area.  
  • Discuss with the employee the most appropriate mechanism to communicate necessary information, for example, the employee’s alternative work arrangement.  

5. Follow up and keep records  

  • Follow up regularly to ensure that the accommodation meets the needs and make changes if necessary.  
  • Keep documentation related to the accommodation on file and, to protect confidentiality and privacy, provide relevant information only to those who will be involved in the implementation of the accommodation.  
  • Accommodation documentation, including physician recommendations, should be kept in a confidential file separate from personnel files. 

 

30. What advice can be provided to pregnant employees who express concern during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Based on current health advice, there are no specific measures required for employees who are considered more at risk of complications. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that pregnant women who feel well continue normal activities, like going to work, but that they should be even more vigilant about handwashing and carrying alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

Pregnant and nursing employees in the federal public service  

  • An employee who is pregnant or nursing may cease to perform their job if they believe continuing any of their current job functions may pose a risk to their health, fetus or child.  
  • Normally, the employee must consult with a qualified medical practitioner of their choice as soon as possible to establish if any of their current job functions pose a risk. 
  • Normally, a medical practitioner must provide a medical certificate confirming there is a risk, and managers must ensure that the duties the employee is performing meet the conditions outlined in the medical certificate.  
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians may be overwhelmed and unavailable to provide medical certificates to justify absences, understand functional limitations or return to work. However, if the manager or employee feels it is necessary to identify potential risks, they may wish to obtain a medical certificate or seek advice from their public health authority.  
  • In the interim, a manager may, in consultation with the employee, reassign the employee to another job that they both agree would not pose a risk. The employee will continue to receive the wages and benefits of their incumbent position.  
  • If a manager cannot reassign the employee to another job, they are entitled to leave with pay in accordance with their relevant collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment.  
  • Prior to the approval of leave, managers should consider the use of flexible work arrangements (e.g. telework and training through Saba or GCcampus), if feasible (i.e. employee has access, employee is able, operational needs allow for it). Once flexible work arrangements have been considered, other paid leave will apply.  

 

 

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