Federal ministries are given the green light to bring more staff back into the office

Federal government ministries are given the green light to welcome more staff back into the office after nearly two years of home working.

“Departments and agencies can now resume planning to gradually increase building occupancy while continuing to respect the appropriate use of prevention practices in the workplace,” Treasury Department President Mona Fortier said in a statement Monday.

Those plans were put on hold by the Omicron variant. But details still need to be clarified as to what a return to office for thousands of federal officials in the capital region will look like.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” Fortier said. “The deputy leaders will continue to develop their plans based on their experience over the past two years and the public health guidance.”

Many federal employees have embraced the flexibility of working from home, and union leaders have campaigned to ensure that this option remains after COVID-19 measures are lifted.

“The Secretariat of the Treasury Board of Canada continues to support MPs in their transition to hybrid working models where applicable and operationally feasible,” Fortier said. “I expect organizations will continue to be agile and show flexibility where needed to adapt to the evolving public health context.”

How many federal employees are returning to offices has major implications for downtown Ottawa, where many businesses have lost the lunch crowds they rely heavily on.

And the city’s LRT system, built to ferry thousands of federal officers downtown, has had fewer passengers than forecast due to the pandemic.

Public Service Alliance of Canada national president Chris Aylward says the union encourages members to advocate for remote work when it’s actually an option that might be available to them.

“Remote work has become commonplace for the vast majority of federal public sector workers, and our members want to maintain some sort of hybrid work arrangement,” he says.

Aylward adds that this is just the first step in bringing federal workers back downtown.

“You’re not going to see 100,000 public sector workers in downtown Ottawa next week,” he says. “It’s up to individual departments and agencies to find their own phased approaches to returning to in-person work.”

Other government agencies have published more specific plans. The Ontario government will require employees to work in person three days a week beginning April 4, sources told CTV News on Monday.

Updated Monday’s occupational health guidance from the federal civil service also says masks or respirators should be worn in all shared indoor spaces, even if physical distancing is observed.

And it updates screening guidelines for when employees should return to the workplace after infection or exposure to COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccination is mandatory for all federal employees. Boosters are not mandatory but are recommended.

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