Return-to-office directive position and advocacy

On December 15, 2022, the Treasury Board Secretariat issued a directive for all federal employees to be back in the office two to three days a week starting January 16, 2023, and by no later than March 31, 2023.

CAPE will be joining the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) and other bargaining agents in a coordinated joint response, but in the meantime, here is more information on CAPE’s position on telework, what we’re doing about it and what you can do.

CAPE’s position

CAPE’s position has always been clear. We believe telework is the way of the future, and it was effectively demonstrated during the pandemic.

>>Directive doesn’t solve issues of in-office work

One thing this directive does not solve are the issues we’ve been hearing about since various members have begun returning to the office: pandemic health and safety concerns (ventilation, masking, etc.); booking systems for workspaces/desks not working; workstations not being properly equipped or even broken; members who are in the office but the people they’re working with are not, so they’re on Teams calls anyways; issues around taking time off on scheduled in-office days; hubs counting as in-office or not depending on management, etc.


Now is not the time to force employees back into the workplace. Some government offices have poor ventilation, poor air quality, and are in dire need of renovations.

Government employees, in great numbers, answered the call to get vaccinated because of the serious health risk that COVID-19 poses. The virus that threw the world into turmoil has not gone away nor has the risk of serious side effects. Recently the media has been reporting that hospitals continue to be overwhelmed not only by COVID patients, but those with the flu. Given this, what is the urgency to force employees into the office, especially over the winter? We have been open in our invitation to sit down with the Employer to discuss the issue.

We have been relentless in advocating for the Employer to show more flexibility around telework since well before the pandemic forced it to adopt it for the safety of its employees.

>>Beyond COVID-19: the multiple benefits of telework

One cannot ignore the multiple benefits of telework and we have raised those with the employer countless times: better work-life balance; time and money saved on commuting to the office; more flexibility for caregivers; better employee mental and physical health and happiness; fewer distractions; and a reduced carbon footprint, just to name a few.

And yet, we recognize that a negative perception of telework endures amongst the Employer’s senior executives for reasons that aren’t quite clear and have not been articulated. Issues around performance and productivity have not been raised as arguments for the pushback on telework. Some argue external pressures could be at play.

CAPE believes the Employer should recognize the significant paradigm shift underway across all workplaces. This now goes far beyond the pandemic. Hybrid work, including telework, is the new normal.

What CAPE is doing about it

>>Collective bargaining

We are firmly resolved to include a telework arrangement in our members’ collective agreements so that they have a say in their working conditions, which up to now have been determined by the employer. Telework is actively being discussed at the bargaining table, along with wages. These were identified by the membership as two of the most important issues to be negotiated during this round of bargaining.

This is not the first time we have tried introducing telework into the EC collective agreement. We had a proposal on telework in previous rounds of bargaining in both 2018 and 2014. This has been an issue across the membership groups to varying degrees.


CAPE recognizes that while the employer retains the right to choose the place of work, it needs to adapt to evolving workplace best practices, and for that to happen, a change of mentality around telework is needed.  

We are using our platform and political backchannels where we can to highlight the substantial social, health, economic, and environmental benefits telework can deliver for all parties.

The Employer ought to pay attention to employees’ preferences, if only as a matter of attraction and retention. No broad consultations have been conducted by the Employer since it launched its return-to-office push last summer.

This is why CAPE ran its own nationwide return-to-office survey in September 2022. The results were shared broadly with decision-makers including the Privy Council, and the Treasury Board Secretariat. Locals have been using it at the department level to lobby their department and agency leadership for more flexibility around telework as well.

The data was also presented to federal government managers at the October Government of Canada’s National Managers' Community Symposium.

>> Media interviews

CAPE has been speaking up extensively on this issue in the media and continues to do so. All the coverage can be accessed here. Public opinion is important because it has been used as a reason why federal public sector employees need to work from the office. Yet, there is no reason to believe the public would think the right to telework cannot be extended to public sector workers, especially if the level of service remains the same.

Hybrid work, including telework, is the new normal across all sectors and we will continue to lobby for the Employer to embrace it with the rest of us.

What you can do

The Employer can ask its employees to return to the office, however, they also must ensure that your health and safety are maintained and that the request isn’t discriminatory. If you feel that the requirement for you to work in the office doesn’t meet one or more of these criteria, we recommend that you speak to your manager and/or request an accommodation. If your request for accommodation is denied, you may file a grievance.

If the concern is around health and safety in the office, you can contact your manager and your health and safety committee representative.

>>Continuing to telework

You can speak to your manager about continuing to telework, especially if:

  • You have evidence that your manager said that you would be working remotely in the future. This is particularly important if you moved further away from your office based on this understanding.
  • All or most other teams in your department have telework options, and there is no reasonable justification for you to be denied these options.

In addition to the above, providing an outline of what you would like to see in terms of telework to your manager could be helpful.

If your manager turns down your proposal, you may formally request an accommodation.

>>Requesting accommodation

You can email your manager to request an accommodation. Legally you must disclose the reasons why you need to be accommodated and cooperate by providing supporting documentation.

A denial of an accommodation for a disability, medical reason, or family situation could be seen as discriminatory, and therefore violate your collective agreement. The burden of proof in an accommodation situation lies with you – both to prove the grounds of discrimination and to confirm your specific restrictions or functional limitations.

If your accommodation request is denied, please contact your Labour Relations Officer by emailing After reviewing your request and the reasons it was denied, we will recommend how to proceed, which may include filing a grievance.

>>Already have existing agreement to telework

If you have an existing telework agreement but are being forced to return to the office, please contact your Labour Relations Officer by emailing

>>Political pressure

We would also encourage each of you who are concerned about the return-to-office, to contact your Member of Parliament (MP). We believe the Employer’s return-to-office plans are politically driven, so sharing your thoughts with your MP could increase the pressure on the Employer to reconsider their plans.

Relevant links

Statement in response to the federal directive on return-to-office

CAPE and the federal return-to-office

CAPE nationwide return-to-office survey results 2022