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Features Health & Safety
Q&A: Key considerations on returning to work


Sharon Ramalho is the founder of Six Words Consulting in Toronto. (Submitted)

On May 27, Talent Canada hosted the Back to Work Summit — a virtual event guiding employers on how to appropriately return to work following COVID-19 closures. The event was hosted in partnership with OHS Canada.

Panellist Sharon Ramalho spoke on HR and policy changes at the summit. She is a Toronto-based consultant and former chief people officer at McDonald’s.

Below she outlines appropriate responses to key questions as employers across Canada begin to return to work:

Talent Canada: What is the appropriate response to an employee who refuses to come back to the office once the government allows it to reopen?

Sharon Ramalho: Employers need to assume innocence with employees who are making this type of request. Managers should have open and honest discussions with each employee to understand their request.

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There may very well be reasons why employees are unable to return to the office, including childcare or family challenges, fear of the office environment and other reasons which could also be health related.

It’s important to communicate the enhancements being put in place to create a safe and healthy work environment.

It’s also worthwhile to determine if a remote-work program is something which continues to make sense for the business and employees.

Most critical is to keep the lines of communication open with the employees and work towards a reasonable solution.

What is an appropriate way to boost morale within a team following layoffs?

SR: Once a team returns to work, it’s important to have a high level of communication to the members and to be transparent regarding the state of the business and the overall goals the company has.

Lead with the well-being of employees as the top priority.

Conduct regularly scheduled team discussions and encourage team members to share how they are dealing with their new normal.

Include employees in setting goals, creating new processes and establishing the work routines. Employees feel more valued and appreciated when they are allowed to provide input.

Business leaders can show their appreciation to the team by providing additional benefits or recognition programs as a way to say thanks for the team’s commitment, hard work and efforts.

What is best practice for handling staff who may have daycare issues during this time?

SR: Determine if a remote-work program is possible for the employee, in order to support the family requirements. Flexibility with time of work can also be taken into consideration.

Perhaps employees can shift their work time, as the traditional 9 to 5 p.m. becomes obsolete.

Seek input from the staff and come to solutions which will support their needs during these challenging times.

Can new health and safety precautions relating to COVID-19 result in other OH&S risks, such as respiratory personal protective equipment (PPE) interfering with vision?

SR: It might be worthwhile to consult an OH&S specialist to determine how best to provide a safe and healthy work environment and to identify any specific risks.

Providing the necessary PPE and training on the use of PPE in the business environment is a crucial step for employees to feel safe in returning to work and for the customers to build trust with the company.

Employee health check-ins is a best practice being used in many industries, which provides the opportunity to ensure the employee is healthy and are comfortable for their role using PPE.

Employees who have concerns using PPE should be listened to and their specific situation should be addressed.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Sharon Ramalho is the founder of Six Words Consulting in Toronto.