Do I really have to get out of my pajama pants? What’s going to keep my face warm when I grab my morning coffee? Do I really have to start pretending to smile at co-workers again? How do I not look stand-offish when I keep wearing my mask or want to keep up physical distancing?
These are questions employees may be asking as effective March 1, 2022 Alberta lifted almost all remaining COVID-19 public health restrictions and is officially in “Step 2” of a three-phased approach in moving towards an endemic and out of the pandemic phase we have found ourselves in for two years.
The Phased Approach
During Step 2:
- The mandatory work-from-home requirement is lifted.
- The provincial mask mandate is lifted except:
- On municipal and intra-provincial public transit for Albertans 13 and older, and
- At AHS-operated and contracted facilities, and all continuing care settings.
- Indoor and outdoor social gathering limits are lifted, including for all wedding and funeral events.
- Restrictions are lifted on interactive activities, table limits, liquor sales and closing times for bars, restaurants and other food serving businesses.
- Capacity on all large venues and entertainment venues are also lifted.
The Alberta Government has also announced that it will force municipalities to lift their masking bylaws. Calgary’s masking bylaw has already voluntarily been removed, and Edmonton’s city council will hold a special meeting on March 8 to address its mask bylaw.
The remaining restrictions are:
- Mandatory isolation periods for those who are asymptomatic and/or test positive for COVID-19.
- Fully vaccinated individuals must continue masking for up to 5 days following their shorter mandatory isolation period. People at risk of severe outcomes are also recommended to continue to wear medical masks when in settings with people outside of their household.
Considerations for Employers
While employers may be eager to have their team members back in cubicles or other more formal workspaces, they would be wise to:
- Conduct updated hazard assessments to determine the relative risks and necessary controls to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. Proactive steps could include:
- Assessing the timing, and any site specific location considerations, for employees returning to the workplace. There may be value in a phased approach, especially given psychological considerations.
- Determining if other PPE measures are still needed to ensure not only physical, but also psychological safety of employees.
- Communicating regularly with employees about the phased approach and encouraging employees who may feel unsafe or concerned to speak directly with their managers or supervisors.
- Personalize the communication on return to work expectations, including timing and frequency of in-office attendance. Through an individualized phone call or personalized meeting, employers can mitigate the pitfalls of not allowing sufficient time to arrange child or elder care and allow employees to privately share relevant information on any concerns or other potential barriers to a return to an employer’s worksite.
- Consider whether the return to a formal worksite will be on a full-time basis or as a part of hybrid approach. Also, if it will be staged and be a ramp up as opposed to an abrupt change. Psychological safety considerations being addressed are important from a legalistic and humanistic perspective. Some employees may experience anxiety, and some of those may go from feeling anxious to even experiencing clinical anxiety that requires treatment from a medical professional. Reminding employees of any EAP and/or other health benefits can assist also.
- Some employees may consider a recall to the office or another worksite a change in their terms and conditions of employment and we recommend consulting with legal counsel to discuss the risks associated with doing so.
If you have any questions regarding the above, other COVID-19 related questions, or would like assistance with developing and/or reviewing pandemic plans, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s other COVID-19 resources.