Frequently Asked Questions: COVID-19 and the Federal Public Service

March 24, 2020

*Last update: Tuesday March 24. This page will be updated regularly.


Please note that all directives from the Chief Human Resources Officer of the Treasury Board Secretariat, as well as a wealth of information are made available to public service employees and updated regularly here:

Information for Government of Canada employees: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)


Questions and Answers

1. Where can I learn more about COVID-19?

The Government of Canada is a reliable source of information on COVID-19 for all Canadians. You can also contact the Government of Canada’s information line at 1-833-784-4397.

Information from your provincial and local health authority is also very important and allows you to stay up to date on the situation in your own community.

2. Should I be reporting to work during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Treasury Board has issued a directive that all federal public service employees across the country work from home whenever and wherever possible. Managers are asked to be as flexible as possible while at the same time ensuring the continuation of critical government services to Canadians.

You should only be required to report to work in situations where your position is deemed a “critical service” (see #3 below).
In situations where a manager determines that working remotely is not at all possible, non-critical employees will be eligible for “other leave with pay” (code 699). Students, casuals and terms less than three months who are not providing critical services are also eligible for this leave subject to certain conditions.

Treasury Board has said that this directive will remain in force until April 10, 2020 and will be reassessed closer to the date based on how the situation is evolving.

3. What are “critical” and “essential” services?

Managers are to consider on-site work only if the work meets the definition of critical service and working remotely to support it is not feasible.

A critical service is one that, if disrupted, would result in a high or very high degree of injury to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians, or to the effective functioning of the Government of Canada. All departments are required to identify their respective critical services and related supporting resources.

By contrast, an essential service is used to determine which positions must continue to provide service during strike activity. Essential service agreements are agreed to with the bargaining agents. For most federal public service organizations there are no current essential service agreements that exist.

Reference: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/tbs-sct/documents/covid-19/20200321-eng.pdf

4. Telework and VPN

Directives to departments do not stipulate how network resources should be used to support employees performing critical and non-critical services.

Appropriate network usage to maximize availability for priority users is a decision at the discretion of each Deputy Head. Any decision should be taken in consultation with the departmental Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Security Officer, who are supported with the latest network capacity updates from Shared Services Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat’s Office of the Chief Information Officer.

In all cases, please refer to network usage best practices that were shared by Treasury Board in their advisories and messages for employees.

5. What are the employer's responsibilities in the workplace?

Employers have a general duty to take all reasonable precautions to prevent harm to employees in the workplace. Employers should have a detailed plan in place including, specific protocols for dealing with this pandemic. The approach must be proactive and focus on the protection of the worker.

Employers also have a responsibility to provide employees with appropriate education and training.

6. What are my rights in the workplace?

Federal public service employees across Canada have the following rights under health and safety legislation:

1. The right to know about health and safety matters.
2. The right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety.
3. The right to refuse dangerous work.

For more information on your rights, please consult the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety website at https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/legisl/three_rights.html .

You should discuss all health and safety concerns with your manager. If your concerns remain unaddressed, then you should contact your workplace health and safety representatives or the CAPE national office.

7. What are my rights if my position is designated a “critical service”?

Federal public service employees, including those whose positions have been deemed to be “critical services”, have the right to refuse dangerous work. Any employee that is subject to Part II of the Canada Labour Code has the right to refuse dangerous work as long as they have reasonable cause to believe that it presents a danger. Under the Code, an employee may refuse to:

• use or operate a machine that constitutes a danger to the employee or to another employee
• work in a place
• perform an activity that constitutes a danger to the employee or to another employee

The Code contains certain exceptions regarding the right to refuse dangerous work. These exceptions include: if the refusal puts the life, health or safety of another person directly in danger; or, the danger in question is a normal condition of employment.

For more information on the right to refuse dangerous work, please consult https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/health-safety/reports/right-refuse.html.

8. What should I do if I am experiencing anxiety over COVID-19?

As we are all forced to deal with sudden and unprecedented disruptions, some of you may be feeling anxious, stressed or even scared. Your wellbeing is paramount, and we wish to assure you that CAPE is here to support its members during these difficult times.

For tips on taking care of your mental health and to learn about the supports available to you, please visit:

https://www.canada.ca/en/government/publicservice/covid-19/covid-19-mental-health-work.html

Other useful resources include:

9. What are my options if I am quarantined, forced to self-isolate or ill?

Treasury Board has said that “Employees that are required by public health officials to self-isolate, if in good health and able to work, will be asked to discuss with their managers the option to telework. If that is not possible, the employees will be granted “other leave with pay (699 code)” as per their collective agreements.”

If you are sick, please follow standard procedures for requesting sick leave. In the event that you do not have enough sick leave credits, you may be eligible to apply for employment insurance benefits. The Federal Government has recently announced a change to the rules for Employment Insurance (EI) so that workers affected do not have to serve the waiting period to claim EI sickness benefits.

10. Do my health benefits allow me to fill prescriptions in advance for self-isolation or quarantine?

Yes. The Public Service Healthcare Plan and most other healthcare plans will provide coverage for medication when it is filled for a period of up to three months. This will allow you to fill your prescription in advance to prepare for self-isolation or quarantine.

If your current prescription does not allow for three-month refills, you can ask your pharmacist or doctor to change the refill period. Most healthcare plans allow for medication to be filled ten days prior to the next refill date.

11. What should I do if I am providing essential/critical services and I am exposed to COVID-19 at work?

Any CAPE member that is providing essential/critical services, and who contracts COVID-19 from their workplace, should file a workplace injury report and contact their provincial or territorial workers compensation board.

If you are unsure how to proceed please contact the CAPE national office.

12. What options do I have if my child's school or daycare is closed?

According to the Treasury Board directive if federal public service employees cannot work because their “children cannot attend school or daycare due to a closure or because of attendance restrictions in place in relation to the coronavirus situation, employees will be granted “other leave with pay” (699 code).

The above provisions for disruption of school and daycare operations related to the coronavirus will remain available to employees and managers for the duration of the disruption in the respective jurisdictions but will be reassessed by the Employer on April 10, 2020.”

13. Will CAPE continue to offer union support?

While the decision was made to close the CAPE national office, we will continue to operate and offer core services to our members by email and phone.

You may have noticed some delays; however, we are working hard to ensure that services are being provided with as little disruption as possible. We appreciate your understanding as we settle into this new reality.

14. What happens if I have an active grievance?

CAPE is working with all employers to determine how best to proceed with grievances during these exceptional times. Please stay tuned for more information on this issue.

15. What is happening with matters that are currently before the Federal Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board  (the Board)?

According to their website, all Board activities previously scheduled to occur between March 20 and May 29, 2020 are postponed for the time being. This includes hearings, exchange of document lists, mediations, and the filing of written submissions, as well as telephone conferences.

Parties may submit, on consent, a request that a matter proceed by teleconference or by written submission. These requests will be considered by the Board and ruled upon.

During this period, the parties may continue to work with Board mediators to assist them in resolving matters in whatever format is acceptable to all concerned, other than in-person meetings.

16. Are union activities still taking place?

The wellness of our membership is paramount. Therefore, all union-related activities scheduled to take place between March 16 and April 30, 2020 are postponed for the time being.

The need for further postponement with be determined as the situation evolves.