A third term for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau means some significant promises with the potential to impact employers and employees may soon become reality.
During its campaign, the Liberal Party pledged to support workplace coronavirus vaccination mandates, a national childcare program, expanded public mental-health offerings and a right-to-disconnect policy.
On vaccination mandates, the Liberals promised to table legislation allowing employers to request proof of vaccination from employees and customers without fear of a legal challenge.
“Employers have been looking for some guidance, as they’re concerned about contamination and the general health of their workers, as well as a resurgence of COVID that could close down their company, industry or the economy,” says Nita Chhinzer, an associate professor with the department of management at the University of Guelph. “In the short term, I imagine some employers may be letting out a sigh of relief.”
However, she notes a formal workplace vaccination mandate is “a pie-in-the-sky idea that can’t be implemented without the required education, documentation and systems behind the scenes. It’s the government’s responsibility to provide the answers and the education around why vaccines are mandatory and they can’t downshift that to individual employers.”
The Liberals also promised to give all federally regulated employees 10 paid sicks days, which likely won’t change much. “The government is highly unionized and its collective bargaining agreements — for example, in border services — give unionized employees 15 days per year, assuming they’re full time,” says Chhinzer. “So this idea of promising a minimum of 10 days is a nice equalizing factor for all federal level business units and employers.”
Central to the Liberals’ platform was the continued promise of a national $10-per-day childcare system, which was a key part of its 2021 budget released in the spring. After the much discussed ‘she-cession’ — women leaving the workforce during the coronavirus pandemic to focus on their caring responsibilities — “this strategy is critical to getting women back to the workforce,” says Chhinzer.
The Liberals also pledged to increase access to free mental-health services via a new transfer to provinces and territories through permanent, ongoing funding that would see an initial investment of $4.5 billion over five years.
While many employers introduced or expanded virtual mental-health benefits over the past 18 months to support employees, additional government funding could mean some of those services could be paid for by the public purse instead of through employer-funded benefits plans. And once the details of the initial investment in mental-health services are ironed out, employers can then ensure employees know about any new publicly funded offerings, notes Chhinzer.
“Employees have traditionally underused employee assistance programs, partially because they didn’t fully understand how comprehensive their plans were and where to go to get help. The Liberals’ proposed system would be a much more freely accessible, universal system.”
As well, Chhinzer believes the Liberals’ pledge to partner with federally regulated employers and labour groups to co-develop a right-to-disconnect policy for workers will enable employers to further explore the role of the employment relationship in helping safeguard employees’ mental health. But she cautions that the policy shouldn’t limit the new flexibility that employees have found during the pandemic.