Executive summary: Guidelines for easing of COVID-19-related restrictions at federal public service worksites – Guidance for Deputy Heads

This Guidebook on the easing of restrictions in the workplace was published in June 2020 for the purpose of guiding Departments in planning for and managing an initial resumption of activity in the workplace at the time. The pandemic environment has since continued to shift with multiple waves impacting public health restrictions, and with vaccination efforts continuing across jurisdictions.

The Guidebook covers general planning and considerations. Departments are encouraged to manage and adjust plans in consideration of the changing pandemic environment and consider the latest developments therein. Planning should be augmented and/or updated as needed, based on the latest information and new complementary guidance’s available.

Also refer to the latest guidance on vaccination.

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To support robust delivery of programs and services to Canadians during a gradual, safe and sustainable easing of COVID-19 restrictions related to federal public service worksites, while supporting the physical and mental health of federal public servants.


While organizations in the public service deliver a broad range of programs and services to a diverse population, to economic and social sectors, in a variety of worksites and over a territory governed by multiple jurisdictions, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected various parts of the country differently. At the same time, the Employer has strived to ensure attentive and coherent support to its workforce, in full respect of the accountabilities of Ministers and Deputy Heads.

Collectively, our planning for the easing of restrictions must adhere to the First Ministers’ April 2020 Joint Statement, with due consideration for provincial and territorial decisions. The following principles continue to guide this planning:

  • the health, safety and wellness of public servants are paramount;
  • public health instructions to contain the spread of the coronavirus will be adhered to; and
  • programs and services that the Government of Canada and Canadians rely on will be maintained. 


The COVID-19 crisis has required an abrupt, widespread shift to remote working arrangements for public servants in all jurisdictions, as Canadians made every effort to stay home and practice physical distancing. As a general rule, only essential front-line workers who could not work remotely have reported for duty in person, with a vast majority of federal public servants working remotely. As epidemiological conditions improve, Deputy Heads are being called upon to determine, in keeping with the principles set out above, the extent to which employees ought to be asked to return to their usual workplaces to support critical services, economic recovery or government priorities.

Detailed guidance to assist with departmental planning for the easing of restrictions is set out in the companion document – Guidebook for Easing Restrictions: A guide to support a gradual, safe and sustainable easing of COVID-19 restrictions at federal worksites – which encompasses advice from Treasury Board Secretariat, Health Canada, and Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Key considerations

It is important that decisions be taken in accordance with the following underlying considerations:


  • Adherence to the Chief Public Health Officer’s advice and direction on public health measures and local public health officer’s advice across the country
  • Protection of the physical and psychological health and safety of federal employees, including all legislative requirements under Part II of the Canada Labour Code, recognizing that COVID-19 has resulted in unique challenges related to both physical and psychological well-being
  • Inform and consult with bargaining agents, the department’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) policy and workplace committees and other stakeholders during the development and implementation of departmental plans
  • Align implementation of the plan according to the easing of measures in each province and territory where the department or agency has physical workplaces (i.e., plan for an asymmetrical implementation)
  • Plan for a reduced use of facilities (as physical distancing requirements continue) by undertaking an assessment of each facility's capacity based on appropriate physical distancing practices, including all assets classes and types of work locations (e.g. offices, labs, vehicles, conveyances, shared worksites, etc.)


  • In determining whether work must be done onsite, prioritize work based on: ensuring services to Canadians; support of Government priorities; support for areas of the economy that are re-opening; and supporting productivity for employees
  • Maximize the work that can be delivered remotely; consider rotational remote working schedules to support employee wellbeing
  • Assess the privacy impacts of the measures that are considered and take appropriate steps to protect privacy rights
  • Continue to ensure the proper secure handling of all documents including in remote locations;
  • While maximizing remote work, ensure equivalent support for workers who are onsite and working remotely, to support the ability of every public servant to make a full contribution as applicable (including any workplace accommodation tools or supports to enable employee success)
  • Comply with collective agreement provisions and terms and conditions, as may be negotiated
  • Continue to build the resilience and sustainability of our organizations and workforce, by strengthening digital and general skill acquisition for public servants, and leveraging digital infrastructure investments
  • Make sure employees are aware of mental health supports and services


  • Foster trust, safety and security of the public and the workforce, and communicate in both official languages and in accessible formats
  • Ensure communications to employees are clear, direct and timely to establish trust and to successfully manage the complex and challenging process for return to the worksites
  • Communications should be coordinated to ensure coherent messaging. Deputy Heads should consult with central agencies in this regard and departments should develop their own communications strategies that align to a government-wide framework and guidance
  • Lead with empathy and communicate with care, compassion and support
  • Continuously adapting to “living with COVID-19” in Canada as long as it is needed
  • Implement robust change management methods and best practices to support employees in successfully adopting the changes/new measures being implemented including effective communications, employee engagement, change leadership and learning strategies
  • Incorporate wellness, accessibility, inclusion, and diversity such as by using Gender-Based Analysis +, to identify employees’ experiences based on their various identity factors (age, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc.)

Conditions that will support increasing access to worksites:

  • Early collaboration of Workplace OHS Committees
  • Availability of public transit and childcare/schools
  • Availability of PPE for employees who require it
  • Capacity to prepare and maintain a clean and safe physical space
  • Information to employees and bargaining agents regarding the priorities and sequence
  • Clear leadership and oversight responsibilities
  • Coordination mechanisms to plan, oversee, and monitor the transition

Key decisions and actions

  • Adapt your pace based on geography, function, physical space and individual employee circumstances.
  • Test your plan from the perspective of the workforce, the workplace, the work and the stakeholders.
  • Develop and implement a plan to address the gradual and sustainable easing of workplace restrictions.
  • Prioritize efforts to resume services to Canadians and support to government priorities through remote work, technology and further re-opening of workspaces.
  • Consult with Bargaining Agents and the Occupational Health and Safety Committee.
  • Define ways to maximize remote work and increase productivity for all workers.
  • To create effective plans, develop comprehensive scenarios, based on specific departmental factors, that take into consideration the workforce, the physical space,  the work itself, and stakeholders to help build successful plans – use these scenarios to test the plan to ensure they are robust and effective.
  • Implement the appropriate measures to minimize the risk of transmission (e.g. physical distancing, PPE, work schedules, protective barriers, etc.).
  • Continue to monitor COVID-19 cases through the enterprise application.

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