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COVID-19 – Information for employees

Latest news - Tuesday 16 March

Guidance Regarding Leave for COVID-19 Vaccination

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) continues to take measures to ensure the ongoing health and safety of all VAC employees. This includes addressing time off requirements for employees wishing to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine, and who are unable to do so outside of working hours.

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The Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) Directive on Leave and Special Working Arrangements, Appendix A, section 2.2.3 reads:

In the core public administration, it is the practice for the employer to grant paid time off, for up to half a day, for persons to attend their own personal medical and dental appointments without charge to their leave credits in cases of routine, periodic check-ups.

Appointments of this nature are typically coded using leave code 698 which would not be charged against an employee's sick leave bank.

Although not routine or periodic, appointments for employees wishing to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine, and who are unable to do so outside of working hours, may be coded as a "periodic medical appointment" (code 698).

Employees who have questions regarding COVID-19 vaccination should discuss with their manager.

While it has not yet been determined how the administration of vaccines will unfold across the country, this guidance will remain in effect unless further direction is received from TBS.

Further information regarding COVID-19 related leave provisions can be found at Canada.ca/coronaviruspublicservice

Staff messages

Questions and answers

  • Pandemic Response Unit (PRU)

    Q. Will the Worksite Entry Scheduling Tool (WEST) be available for all VAC locations?

    A. Yes. Work continues with Information Technology (IT) to make the Workplace Entry Scheduling Tool (WEST) functional for all VAC locations, upon re-occupancy. WEST is configured to meet the needs of different groups depending on operational needs and based on how our different facilities are used across the country.

    Q. Is there an expanded role or responsibilities as part of the name change from EOC to Pandemic Response Unit (PRU)?

    A. The Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has transitioned into the Pandemic Response Unit (PRU) to better reflect a new role and responsibilities. The EOC was established as a central command and control team responsible for carrying out emergency preparedness and emergency management. The PRU’s role is to support the Department to plan, prepare and to effectively and efficiently operate through the pandemic. The unit is a central coordination point for external and internal stakeholders and helps identify the evolving and enduring impacts of the pandemic. It is also responsible for coordinating with the appropriate functional authorities to develop and implement plans, policy and procedures to address these impacts as seamlessly as possible. It is also responsible for aligning these plans with a new, longer term vision of our working environment.

    Q. How are re-occupancy plans being made?

    A. The Pandemic Response Unit coordinates re-occupancy planning based on guidance from Treasury Board Secretariat and Public Services and Procurement Canada with advice from Health Canada. Specific guidance for VAC is developed by subject matter experts including Security Services, the National Accommodations Unit, the VAC Occupational Health and Safety team, and partners such as bargaining agents and VAC's National Occupational Health and Safety Policy Committee. Consultations also occur with representatives from stakeholder in the Field Operations Division, Human Resources Division, and many others including external partners.

    Q. What is the planned 25% occupancy limit based on?

    A. As we ease restrictions, we expect to limit occupancy to 25%. This limit will be applied to the building or floor capacity depending on the location. The 25% occupancy limit will apply to the portion of the space that is normally occupied by VAC employees. Reducing occupancy to 25% will allow employees to physically distance from one another. Some of our smaller offices across the country, which operated with low employee numbers before the pandemic, will manage their occupancy and may have to exceed the 25% threshold to ensure the security and health and safety of employees on site.

  • Returning to VAC worksites

    Q. When will we increase occupancy at VAC worksites?

    A. To ensure your health and safety needs are top priority, occupancy at our worksites is being increased in a measured and controlled way and may vary from one jurisdiction to another (based on local public health guidance).

    At present, we have no set date for making offices more available to employees. There will be limits to the number of employees who can be in an office at any one time. Physical distancing requirements will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

    When that time does come, VAC occupancy will be limited. The occupancy rate will start at 10% and gradually move up to a 25% capacity maximum in each location. Most employees will continue to work remotely, either full-time or part-time, for some time to come.

    Once the re-occupancy phase is implemented, employees who wish to work remotely can continue to do so.

    Q. How will occupancy rates be managed? How will I know if I can go into the office?

    A. Our IT team is developing a new occupancy tool that will provide users with live information on the number of employees in a given worksite. Employees and managers will need to use this tool (on their government-issued laptop or tablet) to access and monitor worksites. The Department is working on a new tool that will allow you to reserve a workspace for a period of time. More information on the Workplace Entry Scheduling Tool will be available soon.

    Q. Will I be forced to return to the office?

    A. No employee will be forced to return to the office. In fact, the majority of employees will continue to work remotely, either full-time or part-time, for the foreseeable future. However, not all functions can be carried out remotely. An employee’s manager is the first point of contact in establishing whether an employee can or should work remotely. Employees are encouraged to discuss their individual situations with their manager. Managers will be provided with considerations to support them in determining what options may be better suited for the office environment.

  • What will worksites look like

    Q. What will worksites look like when I return?

    A. When you return to your usual worksite, you will notice many changes. Our worksites will not resemble pre-COVID-19 working conditions. We are working to remodel our sites to reflect new realities and safety measures all the while delivering on our mission to serve Veterans and their families.

    Access to our worksites will be increased gradually and will vary from one jurisdiction to another, based on the local public health guidance.

    While each VAC worksite will be different, there are a few common elements:

    • Reduced office occupancy compared to pre-COVID;
    • Reduced meeting room occupancy and seating;
    • New screening protocols at entrances;
    • Occupancy limits on elevators, stairwells and washrooms;
    • Personal protective equipment including non-medical masks, disposable gloves and wipes for employee use;
    • Plexiglass barriers at worksites to support interactions with the public where physical distancing cannot be respected;
    • Additional hand sanitizing stations throughout VAC offices;
    • Signs in indicate traffic flow, occupancy in areas like meeting rooms and elevators, physical distancing, hand washing, etc.;
    • Additional cleaning measures;
    • Protocols to support physical distancing in common areas like meeting rooms, washrooms, and kitchens; and
    • Using the occupancy management app to access worksites within reduced office occupancy limits. 

    The Department is working on a new App that will allow you to reserve a workspace for a period of time. More information on the App will be available soon.

  • The new normal at work

    Q. Will I need to wear a mask and if so, will one be provided by VAC?

    A. While working on-site, employees will be expected to follow any provincial or local guidance related to masks. In addition, employees will be required to wear non-medical masks in the office when physical distancing is not possible. Employees will also be strongly encouraged to wear non-medical masks when away from their workstation throughout VAC offices. Each employee returning to the workplace will receive three reusable masks; disposable masks will also be available on site. Employees can wear their own mask if they prefer.

    Q. I work directly with Veterans and their families and I am concerned. What should I do if I think a client is ill?

    A. Our preferred way to provide services to Veterans and their families continues to be virtually, either by phone or online. When in-person services are necessary, please schedule an appointment. Additionally, no walk-ins are allowed at this time until further notice.

    We are currently adapting our worksites to ensure interactions with clients are as safe as possible.

    Safety measures for in-person services include:

    • By appointment only;
    • Client screening process twenty-four hours prior to—and upon—arrival;
    • Passive screening entrances (signs asking if you have COVID-related symptoms and to not enter the premises if you do);
    • Plexiglass barriers in designated interview rooms;
    • Personal protective equipment for employees, mandatory face coverings for employees; and
    • Clients required to sanitize hands before and after each appointment (refer to A4 for more information).

    If during in-person screening or during the appointment you think a client displays possible COVID-19 symptoms, please ask them to leave and reschedule the in-person appointment. Services can alternatively be provided by phone or online.

    If you have any concerns or questions, please discuss them with your supervisor/manager, who can help decide the best approach.

  • Reporting to work and workplace health procedures

    Q. Do I have the right to refuse to work for health and safety reasons?

    A. Employees are responsible for following management direction regarding reporting to work and workplace health procedures in the context of COVID-19.

    Under the Canada Labour Code, employees have the right to refuse to do a job if there is reasonable cause to believe that the job presents a danger to themselves or another employee. Employees must be at work in order to legitimately refuse to work.

    Part II of the Code, which deals with health and safety in the workplace, sets out steps for an employee to follow. Employment and Social Development Canada’s Pamphlet 4: Right to Refuse Dangerous Work, explains the process.

    Q. Do I have a duty to report to management if I have COVID-19?

    A. Because COVID-19 constitutes a workplace hazard under the Canada Labour Code your employer can lawfully request that you provide information regarding COVID-19, to the extent that it directly relates to ensuring the health and safety of employees in the workplace.

    Based on these requirements and advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the employer can request the following information:

    • If you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 in the workplace (so that you can be asked to go home to self-isolate).
    • If you are undergoing COVID-19 testing and the result of that testing, and if you were present in the workplace while potentially infected.
    • If you were in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, as it is recommended that such a person would have to self-isolate (and therefore take leave and/or telework).
    • If you have travelled internationally in the last 14 days.

    Finally, your employer may follow up with you to ensure a return to work when it is safe to do so.

    As a manager, if you are notified by an employee of a possible or confirmed case, please contact the Pandemic Response Unit (PRU) via the Emergency Management mailbox immediately. A completed Possible or Confirmed Case form should be included in the message.

    Q. As an employee, will I be notified if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?

    A. It depends. Each situation must be analyzed individually. Only those who may be potentially impacted will be notified and only information that is absolutely necessary will be provided. This is to protect the privacy of everyone involved. For example, if an employee tests positive, but has not recently been in the office or in personal contact with colleagues, there may be no risk to others and therefore they do not need to be notified.

    The Pandemic Response Unit (PRU) will provide managers with advice and guidance on how to proceed once a case is reported. If necessary, the PRU will consult with our departmental ATIP/Privacy and/or Labour Relations.

    Q. How will the Department meet the requirement for first aid attendants in worksites, given the new occupancy rate restrictions?

    A. Our Occupational Health and Safety team is working with the National Occupational Health and Safety Policy Committee and local OHS committees to formulate a First Aid plan for office re-occupancy, taking into consideration that fewer employees will return and First Aid training may not be readily available. More information will be available soon.

    Q. As a manager/supervisor, what are my responsibilities in the context of COVID-19?

    A. Managers must provide their employees with a healthy and safe work environment at all times. In the context of COVID-19, managers must remain informed of orders, directions and guidance issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and their own organizations. They also have the duty to inform their employees of these orders, directions and provide guidance through the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Your rights and responsibilities as an employee.

    Managers are encouraged to refer to VAC’s COVID-19 Guide for Managers for more information.

  • Working remotely

    Q. How can employees receive a virtual ergonomic assessment?

    A. The Government of Canada’s standing offer for ergonomic assessments has been expanded to include virtual ergonomic assessments. If you would like to request a virtual ergonomic assessment for an employee, please provide a completed and approved Internal Requisition for Material or Services form (GC-92) to Security Services.

    Please ensure the form contains:

    • The region or metropolitan region where the services are required;
    • The employee’s name and contact information;
    • The manager’s name and contact information;
    • The platform the employee would like to use for the assessment (to ensure the personal information of employees is protected, VAC has approved MS Teams and telephone as methods of assessment);
    • The preferred language for the assessment;
    • An email address where invoices can be sent for payment;
    • A statement of work; and
    • A completed common Security Requirement Checklist (SRCL) #6.

    Once the documentation is reviewed by Security Services, it will be forwarded to Procurement, Contracting and Asset Management (PCAM) to request services from one of over 20 providers on the standing offer.

    In addition to virtual ergonomic assessments, there are also providers who offer group webinars that cover basic office ergonomic principles and everyday solutions to home office issues.

    For further contract information in relation to virtual ergonomic assessments or group webinars, please contact PCAM.

    Q. What should an employee do if they would prefer to work from the office?

    A. Remote work remains the number one option for all employees. Employees should discuss their situation with their managers if they require access to a VAC worksite for any reason.

    Q. Do I need an agreement to work remotely? If I began working remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, can I continue to work remotely after VAC offices are re-occupied?

    A. At present, and for the foreseeable future, a telework agreement is not required for employees who work remotely. When worksites begin to increase occupancy, no employee will be forced back to the office. Employees are encouraged to discuss their individual situations, as they relate to worksite occupancy, with their manager.

    Q. Will I be eligible for tax deductions relating to my remote work?

    A. Canada Revenue Agency announced new measures for the 2020 tax year to make the process of claiming home office expense deductions as easy as possible. There are 2 methods available to employees to calculate the “Working from Home” tax deduction—a temporary flat rate method (available for the 2020 tax year only) and a detailed calculation method. The CRA website has updated Q&As and new forms. A new calculator helps employees determine which method is more advantageous should they wish to use the tax credit. We encourage you to consult the CRA website to be able to review your personal situation - Home office expenses for employees - Canada.ca.

    Additional information will follow to support managers who are required to approve the CRA forms for employees who choose the detailed calculation method.

    If you have questions, please contact the KLFIN Employee Payments and Cashier Mailbox.

    Q. I pay for parking in a VAC building but am not using my spot. What can be done?

    A. Parking at VAC buildings is managed by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), third party contractors through PSPC, or building landlords. Direct your questions about parking to the responsible authority with which you entered into a contract.

  • Setting up a home office

    Q. I require equipment or furniture from my work station to successfully work remotely. What can I do?

    A.  Please read the Equipment and Furniture Guide, which provides advice and guidance on how to acquire equipment and furniture needed to safely and successfully work remotely. Employees are encouraged to discuss their ongoing requirements with their manager/supervisor.

    Q. What should I do if my current home office set up is not meeting my specific ergonomic needs?

    A. To help employees work in a heathy and safe manner, the Government of Canada’s standing offer for ergonomic assessments has been expanded to include virtual ergonomic assessments. Please speak to your manager to discuss ergonomic options in our current working environment.

    Q. Can I work on sensitive / protected / classified information from home?

    A. Security and privacy breaches can occur at home. Employees remain responsible for safeguarding personal or sensitive information. When working on protected information, be sure to:

    • Lock your laptop/monitor screen when chatting with family members or leaving your work area unattended;
    • Work from electronic documents whenever possible and print documents only when absolutely necessary;
    • Where information is not available electronically, keep hard copy protected information, such as client files, secured in a locked container;
    • Use a sealable document bag or double-sealed envelope when transporting protected information to and from the worksite; and
    • Secure protected hard copy documents upon return to the worksite, and properly dispose of transitory documents; and
    • While working remotely, information management, security and privacy practices must be followed. Printing and using paper-based office supplies is discouraged for these reasons, along with being digitally incompatible.
  • Working safely from your home

    Q. What can I do to ensure that I’m working safely from home?

    A. There are many things you can do to ensure your workspace / home office is safe.

    Reduce hazards

    • Check extension cords to ensure they are in good condition. Never plug a power bar into an extension cord.
    • Keep cords and cables out of the way so they are not a tripping hazard.
    • Ensure electrical outlets are safe, grounded and not overloaded. Provide enough ventilation and surge protection for electrical equipment.
    • Keep flammable materials away from heat sources and properly store hazardous products to prevent accidental exposure.
    • Check your smoke detectors regularly and establish an evacuation plan for emergencies.

    The April 2020 Carillon article, Work Safely From Home, provides advice and guidance on properly setting up your home workspace. Don’t forget to keep moving during your workday. You can also consult the Working Remotely section of the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 resource page for more tips.

    In addition, staying connected with your manager is more important than ever. You should:

    • work with your manager to establish a plan for regular communication;
    • share emergency contact information;
    • discuss any concerns about your home workspace with your manager; and
    • report any accident or injury that occurs in the course of—or in connection with—your work to your manager or supervisor immediately.

    Your local occupational health and safety committee is also a valuable resource for health and safety related questions. More information on health and safety requirements can be found in the Canada Labour Code, Part II and the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.

  • 699 leave requests

    Q. What is the latest information on 699 leave?

    A. The Treasury Board Secretariat and the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer are responsible for all Government of Canada COVID-19 leave provision policies. The latest information is available on the Employee Illness and Leave page on Canada.ca. Managers are asked to direct any questions regarding the use of 699 leave to their Labour Relations Strategic Advisor. The list of VAC Labour Relations Strategic Advisors assigned to each area can be found in GCDocs.

  • Need assistance?

    Q. I am experiencing symptoms of COVID-19: what should I do?

    A. If you are sick, symptomatic or exposed to someone with COVID-19, you are required to remain at home. If you develop symptoms while in the office, you will be required to return home immediately and advise your supervisor or manager.

    If you are experiencing symptoms please call 811 where applicable or contact your provincial health authority for further direction. You may refer to the COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool for additional information.

    Q. I am anxious about COVID-19. What can I do?

    A. Under circumstances such as these, it is natural to experience anxiety. Employees may wish to speak to their manager/supervisor, who will be able to advise them on what services are available to help employees, including programs such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at 1-800-268-7708. Alternative work arrangements where possible can also help alleviate anxiety.

  • Find out more Health Canada regularly reassesses and updates its advice on COVID-19 for federal employees on how you can help prevent the potential spread of infection in the workplace.

Minister's Message

Thursday 19 March | Stay Safe

I know this is an incredibly difficult time for everyone. I’ve been in this business for a while, and I’ve certainly never experienced anything quite like this.

I also know we all share the same concerns: our own health and safety, that of our friends and families, and an uncertainty about what the coming weeks and months are going to bring.

These feelings are all absolutely valid, and as things continue to evolve, I hope you’ll keep looking out for each other.

And we’ll come back to that in a moment. But first, I just wanted to share a few thoughts about everything that has been going on here at the Department.

The shift to a critical services protocol over the last few days has obviously been a bit of an adjustment. However, we all have a role to play in helping to both slow the spread of the virus, and in protecting ourselves, our colleagues, our loved ones, and the Veterans we serve.

And while we continue to make progress on adjusting to this new reality over the coming days, I recognize that it’s weighed heavily on many of you that it's been more challenging to provide the same exceptional level of service to our Veterans.

I know you’re doing the best you can, and I’m incredibly proud of your commitment to the very important job you do.

Our management teams will continue to provide regular updates, and stand ready to help you in any way they can. I also want to stress that the Employee Assistance Program (1-800-268-7708) is here, should you or your loved ones ever need it.

And to close, I just want to say how much I appreciate your service, your professionalism, and your incredibly hard work. I hope you know that the Deputy, our teams and I all have your backs.

As this situation continues to evolve, please be sure to listen to the experts, and keep checking in with your friends and families. If we do those things, we'll get through this together.

Stay safe.

LM

Lawrence MacAulay
Minister of Veterans Affairs & Associate Minister of National Defence

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