Message from the Chief Human Resources Officer: COVID-19 update further to retightening of restrictions in certain jurisdictions

Message from the Chief Human Resources Officer: COVID-19 update further to retightening of restrictions in certain jurisdictions

November 24, 2020

To: Deputy Heads, Heads of Agencies (including separate Employers), Presidents of Regional Federal Councils, Heads of Human Resources


The number of positive cases of COVID-19 continues to rise quickly in many parts of Canada, and governments and public health authorities are responding with measures reflecting regional and local circumstances and needs. These measures may affect access to some federal worksites.

We must do everything we can to limit further spread of the virus, and this includes continuing to prioritize remote work for public service employees, in most jurisdictions, for the foreseeable future.

Critical services

Recognizing that we all continue to deliver a full range of services for Canadians, we still need to be prepared for every eventuality. With that in mind, if and where further restrictions are put into place, managers may once again need to consider on-site work only if it meets the definition of critical service and where working remotely to support it is not feasible.

Although we have come a long way since March in providing the means for most employees to work effectively off-site, certain organizations may once again find themselves in a position where they need to invoke their Business Continuity Plans (BCP), depending on the nature of their work, in accordance with the Policy on Government Security.

As you revalidate your BCP, revise your list of critical services accordingly, and identify redundancy for the highest demand jobs, please consider how you will ensure the ongoing delivery of access to information, privacy and translation services that support our legislative obligations, as these relate to the effective functioning of government.

Occupational Health Guidance

Following the updated advice on non-medical masks and face coverings issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada in early November, we have been working closely with Health Canada’s Public Service Occupational Health Program (PSOHP) as it relates to the occupational health guidance. In the meantime, the PSOHP has confirmed that published guidance and tips sheets remain valid and indicate the precautions that should be taken for on-site work in addition to local public health measures that may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

A reminder that masks are only one layer of defence. Hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, physical distancing, and staying home when sick, are all necessary measures in combination with masks.

Clarified guidance on the use of leave

As indicated in my message to you in late October, we have clarified the guidance around the use of ‘Other Leave With Pay (699)’. This updated guidance, which came into effect on November 9, 2020, emphasizes that this leave should be granted on a case-by-case basis, and only after remote or alternate work, or flexible work hours have been considered, and generally only after other relevant paid leave has first been used by the employee (with some caveats). Managers are to consult their labour relations advisor regarding individual requests relating to ‘Other Leave With Pay (699).’ Labour relations advisors have received detailed guidance to assist managers in the decision-making process.

Mental Health

The enduring pandemic and the ensuing changes to the work and the workload are impacting the mental health of public servants in diverse and profound ways, just as they do their utmost to care for their personal lives and carry out their professional duties. As we continue to adapt our workspace for safe and limited use, rethinking, prioritizing and redistributing the work itself will help manage the important workload observed across organizations.

While some are seeking certainty regarding the length of the current exceptional measures, we must continue to adapt to the evolution of the coronavirus in each region, and to the cycles of measures communicated by governments. Providing our employees all available information from public health officials and transparency into the principles that guide our decisions for the workplace will help them anticipate change and prepare accordingly.

Finally, please remind employees and managers of the wide range of services and supports available, including the 24/7 Employee Assistance Program, the flexibilities introduced under the Public Service Health Care Plan, and the mental health resource hub.

As before, please refer regularly to the Information for Government of Canada Employees and websites for important information.

Thank you for your attention as we continue to protect the health of our workforce and to preserve the services to Canadians.

Nancy Chahwan
Chief Human Resources Officer
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat / Government of Canada

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