Message #14 to Our Members Re. COVID-19
In our last message to the membership, we commented on safe returns to work and advised that we had written to the Universities to ask about their process for managing the re-opening of departments. As Laurie Morris reported in her President’s message in the August issue of InsideAESES, we have received responses from both the UM and UW. We’re pleased to advise that the Universities are handling safe returns with apparent caution and both institutions are working directly with government health officials to ensure they are adhering to the recommendations of the health professionals.
As some areas of university operations are beginning to re-open, AESES has been receiving more and more questions from our members about their rights to a safe return. We thought we would cover several of the common questions that are being asked so all members are informed of expectations for the employers and employees.
My department has told me I will be coming back to work shortly. I’m anxious about returning when Winnipeg is still seeing new cases of COVID-19 daily. Can I ask to continue working from home?
Any department looking to resume operations at the worksite must go through an application process which includes identifying why it’s necessary to return to the worksite. If a return is authorized, it must be accompanied by an evaluation of the worksite to determine what safety procedures need to be implemented (i.e., hand sanitizer stations, COVID-19 barriers, facial masks, etc.). You have every right to ask what steps have been taken to ensure your safety; however, the University does get to decide which areas will open provided appropriate safety measures are being taken. If you’re still anxious about a return, you may ask your supervisor if you can continue to work from home, but if the unit requires you to perform your duties at the worksite, you will need to comply. The exception to this would be if you have health issues that place you in a vulnerable group for complications if you contract COVID-19 or if you have a mental health illness that prevents you from returning to the worksite. In either of these cases you would need to provide a medical certificate to the University verifying that you are medically unable to return to work.
My department has told me I will be coming back to work shortly. Although I’m comfortable with the safety arrangements they are putting in place at the worksite, I travel to work by bus and I’m worried about possible exposure if I’m in a confined space with others for a prolonged period of time. What are my options?
While we certainly understand the apprehension members may have if travelling by bus, the City of Winnipeg should be complying with recommendations being made by public health officials to ensure a safe travel environment. Regardless, the University isn’t responsible for accommodating an employee’s method of travel to work. This is a personal choice and there are other options that you may need to explore for transportation. Similar to our answer above, you may ask your supervisor if you can continue to work from home if you’re anxious about travelling by bus; however, they do not have to accommodate your request. If you have a health reason for not being able to return to the worksite, it would need to be verified by a medical certificate.
I feel that I would be more productive if I was allowed to return to the worksite; however, my department has said that we will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. Can I ask to return to the worksite anyway?
Both Universities are being very careful in the re-opening of the campuses and many departments/units may be denied their request to return to the worksite if it isn’t deemed a necessity. Although you may certainly ask your supervisor if you can return to work, be prepared that your request may be denied. There are specific occupancy restrictions that could prevent staff from returning and, as such, the employees are being prioritized by need. We have had some members indicate that they are experiencing negative mental health consequences from staying at home (particularly if they live alone). In this case, a member would need to consult with their healthcare provider to determine if a return to work is required to support their mental health. If your doctor determines that you need to return to the worksite, this would have to be outlined in a medical certificate as a form of accommodation.
My department is re-opening but I’m having trouble finding daycare for my child. What are my options?
This is one of the direct questions that we asked of the UM and UW. The response we received from the UM is as follows:
“… as the province continues to open up daycares and returning children to school in the fall, it is hoped that employees will once again be able to access their normal childcare supports. In the event that employees are unable to do so, the university is encouraging units to work with staff in terms of flexing hours of work and continued access to remote work arrangements to help support them as they the [sic] return of their normal childcare supports.”
We hope that the UW will follow the same process.
In any of these situations where you cannot return to the worksite, or need to return, please be sure to reach out to us so we may help facilitate the accommodation and ensure that your rights are being observed. You can contact our labour relations team by phone at (204)949-5200 or email at email@example.com.