Quebec announces gradual plan for employees to return to the office beginning Sept. 7

Over the last year, many Quebecers have turned their bedrooms, living rooms and basements into makeshift home offices due work-from-home orders because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With numbers now in slow decline, public servants in Quebec can soon look forward to water cooler chats and commutes to work on the Metro starting this fall.

Treasury Board Minister Sonia Lebel announced Wednesday that starting Sept. 7, some of the province's more than 60,000 government workers will begin a gradual return to the office, while others continue teleworking

Under the new hybrid policy, about 50 per cent of workers will return to their offices by Oct. 17, while the rest of the workforce will have to wait until mid-November.

The government says it is introducing a protocol that would allow for a maximum of three days per week at home and a minimum of two days per week in the office.

“The fact that we are now in a green area across Quebec, even with that, the telework is now not an obligation, but it's still a privileged way of doing things,” said Lebel.

The caveat is that this hybrid policy depends on the evolution of the health crisis leading to the fall months, by which time the province estimates all eligible adults will have received their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Employers will have to follow public health protocols, including keeping symptomatic workers at home, practicing physical distancing and proper hand hygiene. When physical distancing can’t be maintained, employers will be asked to install physical barriers or wear face masks.

Even after a return to normal life, Lebel says the hybrid model of working will stick around, which, she notes, has its advantages for some, such as a better work-life balance.

“We think that this is something that has both advantages for the government and the employee and the demonstration was made abundantly clear during the pandemic that we just went through,” she said.

The government is also “strongly” recommending companies in the private sector come up with their own policies for a gradual return to the workplace

“The labour rules apply to the teleworkers and the employers, so it's also important to have a telework policy so everybody has the same understanding concerning how it will be made and how we will, in Quebec, be successful,” said employment minister Jean Boulet.

The union representing government workers, the Syndicat de professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec (SPGQ), welcomed the announcement on Wednesday, but called for flexibility in the province’s plan.

“This is a step in the right direction," said SPGQ president Line Lamarre in a statement. “However, we believe that our members are professional enough to determine for themselves when their presence in the office is required. The two-day-a-week mandatory formula lacks flexibility, in our opinion.”

Discussions around telework will be at the heart of collective agreement talks to give workers more autonomy, the union head added.

According to a SPGQ survey conducted last November, 94 per cent of union members reported they want to continue working from home 60 per cent of the time, with just over half saying they’ve been more productive while doing so.

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