Public Safety Guidance on Teleworking During COVID-19 Pandemic

(Available on RDIMS #3552363)

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to work in circumstances and ways in which we may never have before. The requirement to stay at home, unless working in critical positions that require us to be in the workplace, puts an unusual strain on us to telework in what is perhaps, a less than ideal environment. 

Since teleworking is our reality for the foreseeable future, we have prepared this guidance to clarify responsibilities and expectations for managers and employees teleworking from their homes. If you have any questions, please raise them with your manager as we are dealing with something new to the organization and we may not have anticipated all pertinent issues. For any questions that require additional guidance or possibly a departmental approach regarding telework at Public Safety (PS), please communicate with the Labour Relations and Occupational Health and Safety team. A set of evergreen Questions and Answers has been prepared to accompany this guidance during the pandemic.

The Treasury Board Secretariat, Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (TBS-OCHRO), will continue to add material to their website on working remotely. Please note that departments interpret overarching guidance provided by TBS-OCHRO to customize it to their respective environments. With this in mind, visit the PS InfoCentral and Government of Canada websites as teleworking information during the pandemic evolves.

Please note that, during this unusual period, the terms and conditions of employment, provisions of relevant collective agreements and the application of existing directives, policies and legislation including the Public Service Values and Ethics Code and Public Safety Canada Code of Conduct continue to apply while we are teleworking from our homes.

Although most of us are not teleworking by choice, we must try to ensure that our telework environment is adequately safe, in keeping with the intent of the occupational health and safety requirements set out in Part II of the Canada Labour Code and its Regulations. This may seem onerous; but simply, to the best of our abilities we are to afford ourselves a safe working environment while working at home.

Location

For the purpose of this guidance, the primary telework location for employees is their home, as requested by Public Health Authorities and our Deputy Minister, for safety reasons. We are trying to reduce the exposure of employees to the COVID-19 virus. Exceptionally, some essential employees may be required to work in the office during the pandemic. These employees are therefore not teleworking when in the office.

The telework environment must have an internet connection. If there is no available internet connection, you can tether to your work cellular phone to access the internet with your work device (laptop or tablet). For instructions on how to use your work cellular phone as a modem, please refer to the Q’s and A’s accompanying this guidance document.

Environment

Management is aware that employees are teleworking in their home environment and that they may be sharing working space, managing home or family life, school-related responsibilities, or possibly childcare, eldercare or pet care throughout the working day. Employees should discuss freely the conditions of their telework environment with their manager so that expectations can be set appropriately. The degree of flexibility required in terms of working from home should be clear.

To the best of their abilities, the employee should attempt to be productive when scheduled to telework, including time when the Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection is not available. Employees should inform managers when they are unable to connect through VPN to discuss what work could be completed offline. Given these remarkable circumstances, there are bound to be issues with connectivity from time to time. Never before have so many public servants tried to work through VPN.

Expenses

While working from home, employees are responsible for the cost of establishing and maintaining the telework location, including proper and valid insurance, internet connection, utilities, procurement and maintenance of home office equipment, furnishings, etc.

The delegated manager is responsible for work-related expenses such as long-distance phone charges and employees’ office supplies required to perform their duties (e.g. paper, pens). These are subject to normal pre-approval procedures and, once approved, are the responsibility of PS Management. Reimbursement of pre-approved expenses follows the internal procedures established by the organization.

Delegated managers have the discretion to determine requirements on a case-by-case basis. In instances where significant expenditures are involved, they are advised to consult Labour Relations to determine whether the expense is supportable during the pandemic. Other Corporate Management Branch Directorates may also need to be involved, such as IT, Finance and Accommodations.

Equipment

As you may know, PS has a one-device policy. For telework purposes, employees will use their assigned PS laptop or tablet equipped with secure remote access via VPN.

Employees with a cell phone provided by PS will use this device for work-related purposes. If an employee does not have a cell phone, but during the pandemic requires one to be able to perform their functions remotely, they should speak to their manager. Their manager can request a phone from IT, with the approval of the Director General. With appropriate approval, IT will provide a phone, as supply allows.

IT will not be responsible to provide any other accessories, including cables, keyboard, mouse, monitors, printers, etc. Managers may however, exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis, in respect to requirements of employees working on critical program areas, in particular. If for example, an employee requires a mouse while working from home during the pandemic, approval may be given for the employee to purchase a mouse. Prior approval is needed and acceptable cost will have to be determined.

Furniture and IT equipment (regular or ergonomic) should not generally be removed from the workplace without appropriate Director-level approvals. IT and Accommodations must be consulted to support Crown asset management efforts and to discuss arrangements, given Public Health restrictions on mobility and limited access to PS offices.

Should an employee require accommodations for medical reasons, they are responsible for discussing their needs with their manager as soon as possible. Requests will be reviewed and approved by the employee’s Director General, in consultation with Labour Relations and other Corporate Management Branch directorates, as appropriate. A determination will be made in the context of requirements for teleworking during the pandemic.

Safety, Security and Privacy

To ensure that our telework environment is safe and secure, and that we respect the security of documentation, the following conditions should be respected to the best of our abilities:

The employee has appropriately adjusted the home workstation so as to afford sufficient comfort while teleworking (e.g. head and wrists are in neutral positions). For guidance on setting up a temporary home teleworking office, please refer to Quick Steps for Setting Up Your Temporary Laptop Workstation.

Employees should report to management any health and safety hazards or potential hazards as soon as they are identified and they should be corrected in a timely manner.

The employee must report to management any accident or injury occurring while teleworking, as they would if working in the usual workplace. Employees must initiate and collaborate in any processes related to workplace health and safety and/or Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

We must be mindful that security and privacy are just as important when teleworking. Should an employee suspect that a privacy breach occurred, they should speak with their manager as soon as possible and necessary action as per PS Privacy Breach guidelines should be taken.

Similarly, any security incident must be brought to the immediate attention of management and Corporate Security.  Security procedures in place at PS do not allow bringing home assets or information classified above Protected B. Should a situation require an employee to retrieve information or assets classified above Protected B to perform their duties from home, the employee should seek guidance from their manager on the best course of action and contact Corporate Security to obtain security approval and special procedures. Specific security measures may need to be established, depending on circumstances, to ensure any risks associated with such exceptions are mitigated and monitored.

The employee agrees to adhere to all IT policies in addition to any other policies on government security. This includes, but is not limited to:

Communication and Work Practices

Regularly scheduled days of telework are Monday to Friday (7.5 hours/day, 5 days/week). Employees are expected to communicate regularly with their manager to determine work hours and any other operational requirements related to work hours and the functions of PS. When necessary, at management’s request, the telework schedule and hours of work will be adjusted to accommodate operational requirements. Please note that PS employees are not to hold in-person business meetings in their telework environment for safety reasons.

To the best of their ability, the employee should be available to participate in meetings (scheduled and newly requested) via teleconference or other communication media while they are teleworking. As TBS is tracking attendance during the pandemic, employees should speak to their manager if conflicts arise with personal/family responsibilities that prevent them from working half the day or more. We do not necessarily have control over our home environment, therefore the tracker is registering ‘’working from home’’ or ‘’unable to work’’ for a number of reasons (childcare, eldercare, lack of internet access, etc.). Any leave or overtime while teleworking will be subject to pre-approval by management, as per the employee’s collective agreement, as is the case typically.

Recognizing that these are very unusual circumstances, the delegated manager is responsible for ensuring their teleworking employees are being managed with compassion, checking in to determine how they are coping with the new COVID-19 circumstances. Supervision should  respect the unprecedented circumstances within which we are all working, but also continue to the extent possible, to respect the organization’s performance management policies and practices.

To the extent possible, and on a case-by-case basis, employees should remain available to their manager during work hours and will provide alternate contact information (e.g., personal telephone number and email) should the network, secure access or their work phone be unavailable during their telework hours.

PS IT approved tools that support communications include Blackberry Messenger Enterprise (BBME) for text chats between two or more and Jabber for audio-conferencing. Additional information is available through IT Help Desk and IT Service Notifications. No other applications or software should be used on PS devices without IT approval. Please remember that we should refrain from video or streaming of material to reduce the pressure on the network at this time.

For general information on working remotely, visit the Canada School of the Public Service Digital Academy’s Going Remote Guide. For tools to help you carry out your everyday responsibilities, visit the Canada School of Public Service’s new suite of job aids for virtual teams. Moreover, please note that many private sector websites also share tips on telework, ranging from practical information on conducting meetings at a distance to leading and forging teams across distances.

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