While more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of Canadians want a hybrid work arrangement once the coronavirus pandemic recedes, a majority (81 per cent) expressed concern that their companies aren’t ready or equipped to successfully manage this model, according to a new survey by KPMG in Canada.
The survey, which polled more than 2,000 Canadian workers, found nearly half (45 per cent) said they don’t believe their employer understands the implications of a hybrid workplace model. “There does need to be more attention paid to how these arrangements are going to work,” says Lisa Cabel, an employment and labour lawyer and a partner with KPMG in Canada.
“If the employer is asking employees to return to the workplace — and this is a real consideration and concern [for employees] — the best practice would be to get ahead of that and communicate all of the safety measures they’ll put in place to try and put people at ease with returning to the office.”
The survey also found 63 per cent of Canadians want to return to their physical workplace or office. However, most remain worried about contracting variants of the coronavirus, with 72 per cent reluctant to take public transportation — virtually unchanged from a similar KPMG poll conducted in 2020.
And 68 per cent of these employees said one of their biggest worry about returning to the workplace was the risk they’ll contract the disease from colleagues coming to work sick or asymptomatic. In circumstances where employees have been in the workplace despite having symptoms or while awaiting coronavirus test results, Cabel points out it’s usually because they don’t want to miss a day of pay. She adds many provinces have recently passed legislation providing workers with paid sick days to help Canadians stay home if they contract the virus.
She says there has been some case law — mostly in the labour arbitration space — where terminations have been upheld for cause in cases where people have entered the workplace while awaiting a coronavirus test result, when they were supposed to be isolating at home, or where they’ve lied on their pre-screening questionnaire and have symptoms but still went into the office. But the best approach for employers, says Cabel, is transparency and communication about what they’re doing and making available to employees to keep them safe. Employers will likely see more compliance with a written policy and protocol, she adds, particularly if they’re regularly communicating it to employees and making sure it’s being correctly followed.
As well, more than half (54 per cent) of respondents said their employer should require proof of vaccination or vaccine passports. “Having a vaccine passport and demonstrating that you’ve received both of your vaccines is meant to be an indicator of higher safety in the workplace and for individuals themselves,” says Cabel.
However, from a legal perspective, she notes vaccine passports would likely be handled the same as vaccines or rapid antigen testing in that, to use them, employers would have to show balanced reasonableness — whether they’re truly necessary to maintain a safe work environment, while recognizing that employees have certain rights.
More than half (57 per cent) of survey respondents said they believe employers have the right to demand that staff is vaccinated before allowing them to enter the workplace, while 72 per cent said they’d agree to be tested regularly for the virus in the workplace. Although testing is less intrusive than mandating the vaccine, there’s still the question of whether it’s necessary in every case, says Cabel, adding where there’s a red flag raised through other measures like pre-screening questionnaires or in a logged high temperature, she could see some justification for this measure.
Two-thirds (67 per cent) of employees said they’re satisfied with their current work-from-home environment, though that number is down from 76 per cent a year ago. And while 51 per cent said they feel more productive working from home, that number has also dropped (from 59 per cent) since last year during the first lockdown. Cabel says this may just be a reflection of employees being burnt out in the remote working environment. She notes the federal government is currently seeking comments from the public about potentially instituting a right-to-disconnect law, which would see changes to the Canada Labour Code and require employers to implement policies and training in this area.
The survey also found 71 per cent of employees said a hybrid working arrangement should be the standard model for all organizations. However, nearly half (49 per cent) felt they could be overlooked for promotions or face discrimination if they wanted to continue working from home, while 46 per cent felt their managers would treat them differently or penalize them if they didn’t go into the office every day.
“Managers and executive teams have to think about [these concerns] and plan so that they’re aware of the potential of people being left behind because of the model,” says Cabel. “It may be helpful to use tools like having certain days where employees are expected to be in the office.”