Return to work: How to handle anxious employees

With your province gradually reopening, you may be preparing for a return to the workplace. But what if your staff wants to continue working from home?

First published on Wednesday, Jul 07, 2021

Last updated on Monday, Jul 05, 2021

2 min read

Recent surveys have shown that most employees don’t want to return to onsite work full-time anymore. If this is how your staff feels, the first thing you need to do is to find out why.

Talk to your employees early on

If you want to ask your people to come back into the workplace, talk to them in advance. It gives them the opportunity to voice any concerns they have about returning to work and gives you the chance to address these concerns.

So, what might these concerns be?

“I don’t want to catch the virus at work.”

Some staff might have underlying health conditions or live with people who are clinically vulnerable, and they might feel like home is the safest place to be.

As an employer, you can help your employee feel safer by explaining how your workplace is in strict compliance with Public Health guidelines. If your employees know of the additional measures you’ve put in place, like ventilation upgrades, or staggered shifts, it could help give them peace of mind.

“I prefer remote working.”

We’ve all had to adjust to new and different ways of working over the last year. Lots of employees may have become accustomed to remote working. After all, it has its perks. Less commuting, greater flexibility, increased family time…

And with lots of businesses embracing WFH, you could risk losing staff if you refuse to allow them flexibility. As an employer, being adaptable could benefit your business. If remote work suits your business, you could offer employees a ‘hybrid working’ arrangement—half the time in the office, half the time at home. It’s a win-win.

“I can’t access childcare.”

Childcare has been challenging during the pandemic, with parents working from home, schools closing, and periods of lockdown and self-isolation preventing people from entering homes that aren’t their own.

Your staff with children has probably had to make a lot of changes to their childcare arrangements during the pandemic. Offering flexibility, particularly during the summer break, will help parents to keep their new work-life balance when coming back to the office.

Please note that employees who have children, but no childcare support are currently legally entitled to take an unpaid but job-protected leave from work.

Should I take disciplinary action with staff who simply refuse to return to work?

While you’re technically entitled to discipline employees who fail to follow reasonable management instructions, you should be careful. Initiating a disciplinary process during the pandemic should be a last resort after all other options have been fully explored.

And don’t forget, you need to treat high-risk employees with particular care, including older workers, pregnant workers, and employees with pre-existing or underlying medical issues.

You should not dismiss an employee if they refuse to return to work because they must look after their children or elderly parents. If you terminate an employment for such a reason, you’d be inviting legal claims.

Employers have a duty to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship. This would be applicable for reasons related to protected grounds of discrimination under the human rights law in Canada. These grounds include grounds of family status and disability. (A medical condition that makes the worker vulnerable to COVID-19 would be considered a disability.)

Always get professional advice from one of our legal experts before going down the disciplinary route with any employee.

Plan a phased return to the office

Return to work will be challenging for both you and your staff. To make it easier on everyone, consider a phased return to work.

This could mean opening your workplace for a small number of employees at a time, allowing staff to gradually increase their days in the office, or looking at other flexible ways of working that make your people more comfortable.

Not a BrightHR customer yet?

To learn more about how our software can help you manage your business and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, call us today: (1) 888-220-4924.

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