Ask the Expert – Accommodation: Talking It Out

Accommodation: Talking it Out

By Tory McNally, Consultant – HR Business Solutions

In order to preserve the health of their organizations, employers are stretching themselves to be more flexible and strategic in all areas. Retaining employees is vital, now more than ever, because it will be their knowledge that will foster creative solutions and allow the organization to thrive when it is safe to do so; which is why taking employee accommodations seriously is so important.

Employees have obligations both inside and outside of work that may have changed over the last six months and, as we roll into the fall, it looks like we are settling into a new normal that will take communication, cooperation, and understanding to ensure success for as many employees and organizations as possible.

One of the most serious unknowns for employees with school-aged children is what school will look like in the fall. However we spin it, schools provide a place for kids to be while parents are at work, allowing parents to focus on their job.  Parents who juggled childcare, homeschooling, and working from home throughout the spring and summer may be candidates for an accommodation conversation. 

Let’s talk it out.

In many provinces, flexibility is going to be a reality. Employers need to reach out to their employees to see how this is going to affect them. Talk through options for part-time work, modified duties, or just a friendly ear so they can vent (just a little).

It is so important to think long-term about the organization’s needs even if the current financial status is top of mind. Of course, no one needs an employee who is struggling to get their work completed, but if that person is doing whatever they can (waking up at 5 a.m., working out childcare arrangements with people in their bubble, allowing their kids to raid the cookie jar during video calls) this individual requires understanding, and maybe accommodation, but not discipline.

Accommodation means that the organization works with the employee to design a meaningful job that they can accomplish. It is a legal requirement under all provincial and federal Human Rights legislation where family status is a protected trait.

The best way forward is to develop a plan

Ideally, your workplace has a human resources structure that sets expectations, hours, and conduct. It may be present in a job description or an employee agreement.

Start by discussing what is working now and what is not. It would be great to have a list of modified duties or hours ready, but listen to see what the employee is asking for, rather than force a solution they are not invested in.

Be prepared to change this plan. There is an excellent chance that we will rock back and forth between phases of reopening for several months. Be cognizant of what that means for individual employees. For example, if restrictions change to allow additional re-openings, you may have some employees who have changing childcare needs, because their partner who had been caregiving was called back to work.

If all else does fail and an employee cannot be accommodated because of the changes in their circumstances due to coronavirus, some provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland) and for federally regulated employees, there are new job-protected leaves related to coronavirus. If an employee does go on a leave of absence, please maintain regular contact with them and continue to send the message that the organization will work with them to welcome them back on a modified schedule or reduced duties.

Maintain a long-term plan

With a long term vision of retaining employees, working with them to design manageable expectations, and maintaining communication throughout, an organization can emerge from this time with its’ most valuable resource intact, feeling appreciated and intensely loyal. They will have developed excellent problem-solving skills (maybe while re-learning grade four math) and will be thankful to their organization for giving them the chance. They will be the ones to do the heavy lifting to get their organizations back on track when it is finally time to flourish. Treat them well and they will return the favour.

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