Government confirms more details of return-to-office plan

A man walks in downtown Ottawa in August 2023. The federal government has mandated a three-day hybrid schedule for its employees, to be implemented by Sept. 9 this year. (Brian Morris/CBC - image credit)
A man walks in downtown Ottawa in August 2023. The federal government has mandated a three-day hybrid schedule for its employees, to be implemented by Sept. 9 this year. (Brian Morris/CBC - image credit)

The federal government has released more details about its plan to bring public servants back to the office three days a week, and says it expects departments to implement the updated hybrid schedule by early September.

On its website Wednesday, the Government of Canada published a detailed directive on "prescribed presence in the workplace" for deputy heads of departments to follow.

Earlier this week, a federal government source who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter confirmed to Radio-Canada the federal government will expect public servants back in the office three days a week beginning later this year. Major public sector unions said the news came without warning or consultation.

It's a major change to the twice-a-week hybrid model that prompted some 155,000 Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) members to walk off the job last year in what their union called a "watershed moment" for workers' rights.

The government now says it expects department managers who have not already implemented a minimum three-day in office requirement to do so no later than Sept. 9.

This directive will apply to all full-time, part-time, term and indeterminate employees, as well as students and casual workers, the government stated.

While it's insisting employees return to the office a minimum of 60 per cent of the time, the government says it will allow them to fulfil that on a weekly or monthly basis to allow some flexibility.

"Workplaces vary from one organization to the other. Deputy heads are to use discretion and adapt to their operational requirements," reads the website.

Several exceptions

This directive will not apply to employees who were hired to work remotely before March 16, 2020, the government said.

Indigenous public servants "whose location is critical to their identity to work form their communities" and employees who have permission from their assistant deputy minister to work remotely more than 125 kilometres from their office location are also exempt.

The government added that "exceptional exemptions" will be made on a case-by-case basis.

The directive also states department leaders are responsible for verifying employees are following the new hybrid work model through attendance reports, IP login data or access records from turnstiles at the workplace.

The government is encouraging managers to hold conversations with employees to discuss barriers they may encounter, and to find solutions to help address those problems before implementing the new hybrid schedule.

"The employer has the exclusive management right to designate the location of work and to require employees to report to their designated workplace," reads the directive.

The government adds managers should make sure individual circumstances are considered on a case-by-case basis, keeping in mind human rights obligations and the duty to accommodate.

"Managers seeking to ensure compliance have tools available to them, including several administrative actions," the government said.

Union 'fiercely opposes' mandate

The Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) released a statement Wednesday in response to the government's confirmation.

"This announcement is a disaster. We are shocked at this decision which has been made in secret without consultation, and with no valid reason given," reads a statement attributed to Nathan Prier, president of CAPE.

"We will be joining our members and their colleagues in their workplaces to fight against this decision which completely ignores common sense."

Prier said the federal government has so far "offered no evidence or data" to support the claim that employees are more productive in the office.