Critical services and exceptions to telework

March 18, 2020

As the government has moved to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the definition of “critical” services has played a significant role in determining which operations must continue uninterrupted, and by extension which ones must continue being conducted from the workplace rather than home. 

Communication from government employers and media has used terms like “essential” alongside words like “critical” and it has created some confusion for members looking to understand how their managers are making decisions and how it will impact working conditions. It has also been clear to many that telework directives have not been applied universally or at the same speed across departments and agencies in the public service. It is extremely worrying for many since this will have significant implications on their health & safety, family life, and overall wellbeing. 

We can confirm that PSAC President Chris Aylward and the heads of other federal unions have asked Treasury Board to clarify the meaning of the term “critical service” and how managers are to make staffing decisions based on these designations. Treasury Board has agreed to address this in their upcoming directives. 

Essential and critical are not the same thing 

The term essential services is meant to be used to describe which employees must continue their work in the context of collective bargaining and potential labour disruptions. Whether a worker has been designated as essential in the past has no part in determining whether they must work from home or the workplace during this global pandemic. 

What if I disagree with my manager’s decision? 

Some members have reported that they have been asked to continue their operations from their workplace but that they feel they could just as easily do the work from home. In other cases they have been asked to go into the workplace to continue work they don’t think is necessary for critical government operations. 

In these cases PSAC would urge members who cannot reach a resolution with their manager to speak with their local union or a representative from their component union for support.  

If you are asked to physically go into work you and feel that the appropriate precautions aren’t being taken by the employer, you have the right to refuse dangerous work