Questions you're afraid to ask about returning to the office

Jul 22, 2021
min read

It’s time for another round of #AskHumi. This month, we’re honing in on the “back to the office” buzz. While this glimpse of normalcy can be exciting, we understand your concerns and anxieties surrounding the topic, and we’re here to help make that transition (or non-transition) as smooth as possible. Here are our answers to your HR questions:

I’m nervous about catching COVID-19 upon returning to my workplace. How do I know my employer will keep me safe?

It’s important to remember that returning to the office doesn’t mean the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Your employer will be required to abide by regional occupational health and safety guidelines, which could include physical distancing and one-way office ‘traffic’ controlled by arrows on the floor. 

Your employer should keep an open line of communication in implementing their back to office plan, making clear whether personal protective equipment (PPE) will be required, if desks will be six feet apart, and if employees have the option to stay home. 

It’s also perfectly okay if you feel more comfortable working remotely right now, or permanently. Speak to Human Resources about what works best for you. Communication is pivotal in this process, and if you’re unsure or hesitant about your employer’s back to office plan, reach out. 

I’m hesitant about the vaccine. Can my employer refuse me access to the office if I don’t get it?

While we encourage those who are able to get vaccinated to do their part, employers and health professionals recognize the reasons why some may not be vaccinated, like having a disability, health issues, or holding certain religious beliefs. 

The COVID-19 vaccine is currently not mandatory for employees in Ontario, and as we covered in a recent blog on the topic, employees don’t have to disclose their vaccination status. While some employers may choose to mandate a policy requiring your team to be vaccinated to enter the office, it is likely that most will instead require employees to practice physical distancing, wear personal protective equipment (PPE), and perhaps participate in rapid onsite testing. 

I feel more comfortable working remotely and am not interested in going back to the office. How do I navigate this conversation with my employer?

While the last 18 months have been difficult, it has shown us that we can accomplish great work from just about anywhere. For those of us at Humi, we believe it's important to feel supported regardless of where and when we are working, which is why we’re giving our team the option to come back into the office or work fully remote.

The world of work is changing and many employers recognize this. Meet with HR and discuss your options in the realm of employer expectations. If you’ve proven to be productive from home over the last while, there shouldn’t be a reason for them to decline – especially as remote work allows employers and employees to cut down on costs and time

If you need leverage in navigating this conversation, check out our recent blog where we weigh the perks and considerations of remote work, full-time in office, and the hybrid model. 

What happens if I get sick? What if someone close to me gets sick and I have to care for them? Will I have paid time off?

The ESA currently provides for two infectious disease emergency leaves relating to COVID-19 in Ontario. However, all employers should update their sick leave policy and clearly identify what their employees qualify for to put these worries at ease. If this isn’t clearly communicated, check in with HR. 

What if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in my office? How will I know?

Employers shouldn’t just work to prevent a crisis – they should be just as, if not more, prepared to deal with one if it happens. In a previous blog, we discussed how necessary a crisis mitigation plan is in the very real circumstance that an outbreak occurs. 

Especially if you work in a shared office space, Ontario employers should abide by Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines which outlines the “responsibilities employees and managers have to create a safe work environment.”

My company hired several workers remotely during the pandemic. How can we ensure they feel comfortable, safe, and included in our physical workspace when we go back to the office?

An employee’s onboarding experience makes all the difference in their journey at your company – it's not only a first impression of company culture, but it’s also a great way for them to get to know their team. While many employers have implemented smooth virtual onboarding, those same employees who joined months ago may feel out of place stepping into the office for the first time. 

It would be beneficial to do some extra onboarding, or re-onboarding: The process of onboarding employees who were hired remotely into the physical workplace. This may include an office tour, special social events, and extra training for in-office tech. 

As some of us may not return to the office full-time or at all, employers must be diligent to ensure everyone feels comfortable, safe, and included. Make sure you have a plan in place to communicate your expectations, including whether meeting rooms will have cameras for remote workers and if you will alternate between in-person and virtual events. 

For more tips on prioritizing equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in your workplace, watch our webinar recording – “Workplace equity, diversity, and inclusion. Where do I get started?”

Thanks again for reaching out and trusting us with your questions. We’ll be back next month for another round of #AskHumi, so stay on the lookout!

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Hey there 👋 my name is Andrea Bartlett.

I’m the Director of HR at Humi, and I’m obsessed with all things people and human resources. Throughout my time working in a range of industries, I’ve learned that one thing is clear: the world of work is changing and HR professionals are leading the charge. 

I believe that businesses should know their people as well as they know their product. But people are complex, and the solutions aren’t always easy. That’s how Think with Humi will help. 

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