COVID-19: Office safety concerns grow as border restrictions ease

Some Canadian workers are expressing concern about returning to the office and to work as Ottawa lifts all remaining border restrictions and experts warn of a potentially large wave of COVID-19 cases. 19 new this fall.

The federal government says COVID-19 border restrictions will be lifted as of Saturday, including mandatory vaccinations, testing and quarantine for international travelers, as well as mask requirements on airplanes and trains.

For many, it was a welcome and overdue decision. But others are very worried about this new phase of the pandemic.

The “living with COVID” phase has seen most mask regulations abolished, self-isolation rules in place and mandatory workplace vaccine policies abolished.

However, with a better understanding of the risk of repeat infections and prolonged COVID, some workers are concerned about exposure when commuting to work, attending conferences, or working in shared spaces.

Some are even leaving positions that require being in the office or traveling a lot.

Ben MacLeod gave up his dream job due to health concerns.

Earlier this year, he returned from Asia to his hometown of Halifax in search of career experience and a safe harbor during the pandemic.

Nova Scotia’s response to the new coronavirus has been one of the most cautious in the world, and he thinks it’s a safe bet.

Instead, he said he was asked to work directly when the Omicron variant scanned the province. Most of his colleagues avoid wearing masks, even as COVID-19 cases spread throughout the office. He quietly moved his laptop to an unused meeting room, but was told he had to work from an open-plan office with others.

The final straw came when he was reprimanded for not attending a work meeting, he said. There was no virtual selection and no agenda other than to note that food would be served – a potentially contagious COVID event he was uncomfortable participating in.

“They refused to take me on and I continued to adapt to new levels of risk,” MacLeod said. “But they kept pushing and I didn’t think I should jeopardize my health because of work. So I quit.”

For workers with serious concerns about COVID-19, leaving may be one of the few remaining options.

Experts say the government’s easing of pandemic restrictions leaves workers with little room to fight back-to-office duties.

“Many workplaces take cues from the government,” says employment attorney Hermie Abraham. “As long as employers follow the public health directives, I don’t see them having a legal problem with recalling workers to the office.”

The exception will be for workers with disabilities or underlying health conditions that require accommodation, she said.

“On the other hand, as long as an employer adheres to occupational health and safety rules and public health directives, there is really no reason for an employee to object to employment.” work at the office,” said Abraham.

While employers may not be legally required to take on pandemic workers, it can still be a good idea.

Canada’s unemployment rate remains low while vacancies hit a record high with nearly a million positions open in the second quarter, Statistics Canada reported.

The situation could lead companies to enforce strict return-to-office policies or require employees to travel a lot in a tough labor market.

Richard Powers, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said: “Employees that are inflexible and dictate that employees have to return to the office can lead to employee dissatisfaction.

“It will also be harder for them to recruit staff at a time when there’s really a war for talent.”

Companies that fire employees for refusing to return to the office could also face lawsuits alleging constructive layoffs, he said.

“Most employers are taking a managed approach to getting back to the office,” says Powers. “They recognize that things have changed during the pandemic and they are negotiating with employees about how they will manage the new normal.”

Workplace health and safety expert Marianne Levitsky says employers can work to support people with COVID-19 concerns without necessarily imposing rigid restrictions. for all employees.

Ensure good ventilation and air filtration in the office, support wearing of masks, encourage booster vaccination, reduce office population density through combined scheduling, and provide consistent sick time With the flexibility for people with symptoms to work from home can all be part of a plan for a safe return to the office, she said.

“There is no silver bullet,” said Levitsky, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “But many of these strategies can work together to prevent infection and keep people safe.”

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