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Penalties for public servants who won’t go back to office to be handled individually

Federal employees still working from home will begin to transition back starting Monday
President of the Treasury Board Mona Fortier speaks in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. Fortier says that if federal public servants refuse to return-to-office by the end of March management will be left to assess each situation on a case by case basis.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The federal government says repercussions for public servants who refuse to return to in-person work will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Starting Monday, all federal employees who are still working from home will begin the transition back to in-person work.

Treasury Board President Mona Fortier announced last month that all departments must bring workers back to the office at least two to three times a week by the end of March.

In an interview Thursday, she did not specify what the consequences may be for anyone who refuses to return.

“Those that do not comply by the end of March, management will (decide) if they face disciplinary measures or not, but each situation will be assessed case-by-case,” said Fortier.

Fortier said the return-to-office plan is needed because of inconsistencies in remote work policies across federal departments, given that some departments have already been working in-person as many as three days a week.

“Departments had seen that there have been some equity inconsistencies,” she added, saying that fairness and equity are the principles guiding the hybrid work model.

A spokesperson for Fortier’s office sent a followup email on Friday noting that many departments won’t need to change their policies because they have already asked employees to be back in the office two or three days a week.

At Global Affairs Canada, Indigenous Services Canada, Canadian Heritage and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, people have been in the office at least one day a week.

Environment and Climate Change Canada didn’t have a set number of in-office days, but the spokesperson noted that about half of its employees were meeting the two-day in-person minimum.

“Consistency in how hybrid work is applied across government will make employees’ experiences consistent no matter where they work,” Scott Bardsley said.

Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said people are willing to return to the office if they receive a clear answer as to why it is necessary.

“Our members are completely confused,” said Aylward, whose union represents 165,000 federal public servants.

He said he regularly hears from members about their struggles to secure childcare and their reluctance to spend hours of their day commuting if they are able to work productively from home.

“The government (needs) to stop this right now and to come to the bargaining table so that we can negotiate this, get it into the collective agreement, so that our members’ rights are protected,” said Aylward.

The union is in active negotiations with the Treasury Board, and PSAC believes any rules about hybrid work should be hashed out at the bargaining table. Those talks are not progressing well, however, with both parties filing separate labour complaints against the other.

—Cindy Tran, The Canadian Press

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