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Federal departments get go-ahead to bring more employees back to the office
March 2, 2022
Michael Woods

Federal government departments are being given the go-ahead to welcome more employees back to the office after nearly two years of working from home.

“Departments and agencies may now resume their planning to gradually increase building occupancy,while continuing to respect the appropriate use of workplace preventive practices” Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said in a statement on Monday.

Those plans had been put on hold by the Omicron variant. But there are still details to be sorted out regarding what a return to office will look like for thousands of federal public servants in the national capital region.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” Fortier said. “Deputy heads will continue to develop their plans, informed by their experiences of the past two years and public health guidance.”

Many federal workers have warmed to the flexibility of working from home, and union leaders have been advocating for that option to remain in place even as COVID-19 measures are lifted.

“The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat continues to support deputies in their transition to hybrid work models, where applicable and operationally feasible,” Fortier said. “It is my expectation that organizations will continue to be agile and demonstrate flexibility as necessary, in their planning to align to the evolving public health context.”

How many federal workers return to offices has big implications for Ottawa’s downtown, where many businesses have lost the lunch crowds they heavily rely on.

And the city’s LRT system was built to bring thousands of federal public servants downtown has seen lower-than-projected ridership due to the pandemic.

Public Service Alliance of Canada National President Chris Aylward says the union is encouraging members to advocate for remote work if in fact that os an option that might be available to them.

“Remote work has become part of everyday life for the vast majority of federal public sector workers and our members want to maintain some sort of a hybrid working arrangement,” he says.

Aylward adds this is just the first step of bringing federal employees back downtown.

“You’re not going to see 100,000 federal public sector workers in downtown Ottawa next week,” he says. “It’s up to the individual departments and agencies to figure out they’re own phased in approaches for returning to in-person work.”

Other orders of government have released more specific plans. The Ontario government is requiring employees to attend in-person work three days per week starting April 4, sources told CTV News on Monday.

The federal public service's updated occupational health guidance on Monday also says masks or respirators should be worn in all indoor shared spaces, even when physical distancing is maintained.

And it updates screening guidelines for when employees should return to the workplace following infection or exposure to COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccination is mandatory for all federal public servants. Boosters are not mandatory, but are recommended.