The coronavirus may have shaken the workplace, but the crisis will pass. In the meantime, take care of your employer brand and employees.

With all the measures being taken to slow the spread of COVID-19, a lot of businesses are experiencing a substantial slowdown. But the situation is only temporary and everyone hopes that things will get back to normal soon. You’ve got to be ready for when that happens.

Given the current labour shortage, business leaders should reassure their employees and make sure their experience remains as positive as possible. Let your corporate values shine through.

Speak through your employer brand

An employer brand is much more than just a company name and logo. It’s your personality. It’s your DNA. Use it to say what makes your business unique. Your employees play a dual role by contributing to the brand and acting as its ambassadors.

Despite the current situation, you need to stay true to your business culture and employer brand. This means taking care of your team. If you have to make tough choices—like cutting hours, switching up responsibilities and temporarily laying off employees—you’ve got to be open about it. It’s the only way you can gain and maintain their trust.

The way you handle the situation and implement changes can have a big impact on your image, both inside and outside the organization.

Be transparent about changes and layoffs

Regular and transparent communications are essential in the current circumstances. You may need to adjust your leadership style, show empathy and explain the rationale behind hard decisions. Make sure your communications address any changes in the situation. These best practices apply all the time, but they’re now more important than ever.

If the crisis is forcing you to lay off workers, make sure you provide these individuals with the information they need and let them know what your next steps will be. Designate an internal contact person who can answer any questions they may have about human resources matters. Keep in touch with laid-off employees so that they still feel like they’re part of your team.

For answers about the administrative side of layoffs and managing employees in times of crisis, consult our frequently asked questions.

Support employees and managers working from home

Employees may be feeling ungrounded, especially if their team has been restructured or if they’ve been asked to work from home. In either case, there are things you can do to improve their experience as company employees.

Set a schedule

Plan one-on-one and group meetings. You may want to check in more frequently at first, but that need will likely subside as everyone gets used to the new reality.

Give feedback

Use meetings to provide regular feedback and words of encouragement to employees working from home.

Delegate responsibilities

Since working remotely can make it harder to cascade information, hand power over to your teams. Consider creating sub-groups to handle specific tasks or projects.

Make professional development a priority

Capitalize on downtime by offering your team training. This includes self-guided study, knowledge sharing and mentorship arrangements.

Set realistic goals

With the current situation being what it is, you may need to adjust your team’s performance targets. Some people take longer than others to adapt to change. Since the crisis has undoubtedly disrupted your business’ ecosystem (clients, suppliers, public health directives, etc.), review your goals and make sure they’re achievable in the current context. Then communicate these objectives with your team and keep the lines of communication open on how you’re going to attain them.

Encourage employees to talk to each other

Social distancing measures and telework have made us all appreciate the importance of interpersonal connections in the workplace. When we let colleagues glimpse into our homes, we’re more likely to connect on a personal level. You can prevent people from feeling isolated and boost team spirit with online social events, like a virtual after-work cocktail.

For other measures to adapt your business practices to telework, see our article on the topic.

Remember that the crisis—and your response to it—will leave their mark on employees. The decisions you make today will affect their relationship with the company in the future. You’ve already invested substantially in your employer brand, so don’t let it all go down the drain.

Keep delivering on your promise and you’ll come out ahead when the crisis is over. Remember, we all have a role to play in cultivating our employer brand. Let’s remain optimistic, collaborate and take care of our talent as we weather the storm together.

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Jean-François Boudreault
Partner | Human resources consulting

Business continuity is on everyone’s lips. The days come and go and each one is different. In these unstable times, concern for maintaining employment and the well-being of employees remains a priority for businesses.

We are aware that the daily management of the crisis requires much energy on your part and numerous measures have been put in place.

In an effort to provide you with some answers, our team of experts has prepared a FAQ on health and the management of your daily life which, we hope, will be very useful to you.

Do not underestimate the consequences of this pandemic. Remain proactive so that you can manage the present, but especially, ensure your future, because after the crisis, comes recovery!

Maintaining employees’ health and jobs | What can I do?

Legal actions
N.B.: The answers provided in this section are simply general guidelines regarding the parties’ rights and obligations, and do not constitute in any way legal advice. Should you have any concerns, we strongly recommend you contact a labour law lawyer.

What are my obligations towards employees who are teleworking?

Telework vs. private life

Regardless of where the employee’s workstation is located, you are within your right to supervise the employee’s work. However, this must be done in a limited fashion, in accordance with your privacy obligations.

SST (risk management for employees working from home)

In principle, in the case of telework, employers maintain the same obligations of providing safe, risk-free work environments. Similarly, employees that get injured while working from home could technically be compensated by the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) for the duration of their work disability and medical treatment.

Read our article on telework management for more relevant information.

What is the difference between layoffs and dismissals?

Layoffs are a temporary staff reducing measure, normally for economic reasons, while dismissals are final measures that sever the employment link between workers and your business.

In the current situation, if you are cutting jobs temporarily due to the restrictions resulting from COVID-19, then you are carrying out layoffs.

Do I need to respect seniority when implementing layoffs as needed?

For non-unionized businesses, the labour laws do not establish any requirements pertaining to seniority.

However, if you have employees with same or interchangeable tasks, it is normally preferable to respect seniority unless one of the employees in question has greater expertise or more skills than his/her other colleagues.

Also, if your usual practices dictate that seniority should apply, it is preferable to continue in this manner for conducting layoffs.

Do I need to use up vacation banks or pay a notice of termination to the employees I lay off?

The answer is no to both questions. Given that this is a temporary situation, you are not required to pay a notice of termination or use up the employee’s vacation bank.

Nonetheless, if the layoff goes beyond six months, you will have to pay the notice of termination required by the law and pay the employee for banked vacation amounts (see CNESST).

Do I have different obligations if I lay off a high number of employees?

As soon as 10 or more people are laid off in a same establishment in the course of two consecutive months, this constitutes a collective dismissal, which is covered by specific provisions of the Quebec Labour Standards Act (LSA, s. 84.01 and following).

These provisions require, among others, the payment of a specific notice of termination, payable to employees affected if the layoff is expected to last more than six months, or the end of the six months if the layoff was for an undetermined duration at the time the employees were laid off.

However, in the case of the current crisis, the governments are implementing different actions and are reviewing the rules that prevail in order to help businesses and workers. We encourage you to assess your situation with firms specialized in labour law to obtain an answer tailored to your situation.

What are my obligations to my immigrant employees on temporary work permits only?

Your obligations to immigrant employees with only temporary work permits are the same as your obligations to your other employees. However, it is not clear whether they will be entitled to EI benefits if they are laid off.

You should consult your immigration advisors who are more familiar with the specifics of your business. Furthermore, the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration website is the most up-to-date source.

Maintaining health, safety and well-being in the workplace | A shared responsibility

We invite you to refer to the various government, CNESST and Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés websites for continuous and up-to-date information.

Occupational health and safety

Some of my employees refuse to come to work despite the sanitation measures I’ve put in place: can I order them to come in?

The same concepts of the right to refuse under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) also apply to the Coronavirus situation, i.e., a worker has the right to refuse to perform work if he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that the work in question, or the context in which it is performed, endangers his or her health.

In such a case, only a CNESST inspector is in a position to decide whether these grounds were reasonable or not, based on the measures that the employer had put in place.

Therefore, if you need to maintain your operations in whole or in part, it will be important to put in place initiatives that address the risks of contamination.

Creating an ad hoc working committee, made up of management members, your management team, the union and employees, is an excellent way to engage your employees and involve them in the search for solutions.

If I maintain my operations in whole or in part, what are my obligations to my employees with regard to the risks of contamination?

You must provide your employees with a hazard-free work environment. Therefore, you must ensure that workplaces comply with established recommendations to limit the risk of contamination:

• Distance between individuals;
• Limit the numbers in gatherings;
• Frequent cleaning and disinfection according to sanitary standards and hygiene products to be provided to employees.

If an employee has infected other employees, will this be considered an employment injury?

The Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases (LATMP) stipulates that any occupational injury (or disease) arising out of or in the course of work constitutes an event that is compensable by CNESST. Therefore, yes, such contamination would certainly be compensable.

What should be done with personal protective equipment (PPE)?

You must ensure that equipment is not transferred from one colleague to another or that it is cleaned and disinfected. Employees are responsible for their own safety and each must ensure that the equipment at their disposal is cleaned and disinfected as required. However, employers must provide employees with the means and tools to do so and supervise the performance of this task.

If I believe that one of my employees is infected, do I have the right to impose self-quarantine?

Not only do you have the right, but it is also your responsibility to do so if you have serious or reasonable motives for considering that they might be infected.

One of my employees just returned from vacation abroad: how should I manage the situation?

The authorities have clearly specified that anyone returning from a trip outside Canada must place themselves in isolation (quarantine) for 14 days. Therefore, as an employer, you must remove them from work for the duration of this quarantine.

Health and well-being in the work place

I don’t have group insurance or a sick leave plan: How are my laid-off employees covered?

The governments of Canada and Quebec are putting in place additional programs to help support employees and businesses with wage benefits. We invite you to visit our website for a follow-up of the support measures we carry out on a daily basis. You can also refer to the following sites:

How can I support my employees who are feeling anxious because of the current situation?

First, be aware that your employees may experience anxiety and stress related to the pandemic. Financial insecurity, fear of contracting the virus, lack of social contact and ongoing family life can be major triggers if not managed.

So, if your company offers Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services, it would be important to put them in touch with this service as soon as possible. Otherwise, we strongly recommend that you use the services of the CLSC in your administrative district or in the area where your employee lives.

L’Ordre des psychologues du Québec also provides online, accessible and confidential services.

For more information, you can refer to the Services Québec or Services de santé et services sociaux du Québec websites.

This FAQ was written in collaboration with Katy Langlais and Martin Lafrance.

31 Mar 2020  |  Written by :

Jean-François Boudreault is a partner at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton. He is your expert in human...

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Now more than ever, businesses should step up their communications with stakeholders and look past the current conditions.

Quebec businesses are facing unprecedented challenges as the province grinds to a halt in a concerted effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Attention, speed and agility: that’s what small and mid-size businesses need to lessen the impact on their finances, workforce, strategy and operations.

Financial assistance programs

Several government programs have already been introduced to help businesses through the crisis. This has left people wondering:

  • What programs is my business eligible for?
  • What is the application process?
  • Can I get additional help?
  • How can I prove that my business will be viable once the COVID-19 outbreak is over?

Since these are new programs, you may want to get help to make sure you apply for all available opportunities. More aid means your business takes less of a financial hit.

Take care of your employees

Action needs to be taken quickly, but this can put a lot of pressure on companies and workers.

As recently as a few weeks ago, one of the main factors holding businesses back was the skilled labour shortage.

This issue may no longer be making headlines, but it’s sure to resurface once the coronavirus crisis subsides.
Many companies are being forced to temporarily layoff staff. How can they make sure their top talent returns once business resumes?

Communication is the key. Businesses need to establish open lines of communication, maintain contact, provide reassurance and take care of their laid-off workers with initiatives such as helping them with employment insurance applications.

Since we have every reason to believe that staffing will still be a critical issue after the crisis blows over, business owners should develop an effective internal communications plan that will help them retain the employees they’ve had to temporarily let go.

Keep in touch with partners and suppliers

Your partners and suppliers deserve to know where you’re at. To do so, develop and implement a carefully planned stakeholder communications strategy. Maintaining relationships by providing helpful information and reassurance is sure to benefit your business today and tomorrow.

Modernize your work practices

The way we work is changing. Even before the crisis, thousands of Quebeckers had already started working from home.

Various studies have shown that workers are more productive when they don’t have to come into the office. In order to make telework a success, businesses need powerful tools that make it easy and efficient for employees to do carry out their tasks remotely.

Of course, working from home isn’t a realistic option for everyone. But many businesses should prepare for the future by setting up services that could help you keep employee on board, even if they’re working from home.

One such example is e-commerce. In Quebec’s Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, businesses haven’t kept up with the e-commerce and transactional website trend. But the crisis has spurred a number of companies to take action. As a result, they’re now able to continue serving customers and hold on to some of their staff, despite the closure of their brick-and-mortar locations.

Take action today

The government-imposed closures won’t last forever. Smart business owners know that the time to act is now if they want to be ready for action once things get back to normal. Companies should try to restore stability as quickly as possible by focussing on:

  • Managing cash flows
  • Supporting employees
  • Stabilizing and boosting revenues
  • Managing procurement
  • Maintaining operations
  • Keeping IT systems secure
  • Monitoring performance
  • Reassuring stakeholders

To give you a hand, our team created Solution PME – COVID-19, which includes concrete customizable interventions and fast-track action plan.

Find out how our entrepreneurial values and standards of excellence can support your business. By leveraging our tactics, shared leadership, complementary skills and professionalism, you can find quiet in the eye of the storm and start planning for a brighter future.

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Eugène Gilbert
Senior Manager | CPA, CMA | Business Transformation

In order to adapt in these uncertain times due to the coronavirus, it is essential for a business to have a clear vision of its activities.

Fast operational diagnostics are now more important than ever. This involves analyzing your financial position, future operations, profitability and break-even point.

Here are some strategies to help you meet the challenge.

Examine your financial situation

To assess your business’ financial health, you need to look at your working capital, credit options, securities and other assets.

Then prepare a list of your priority creditors, assess your risks and negotiate payment agreements as needed.

Adjust your financial projections

Since the current crisis is a total game-changer, you’ll probably need to adjust your plan. It’s important to be realistic and base your projections on an effective short-term plan.

Forecast operations and earnings

Again, be realistic. Assumptions that made sense yesterday may no longer apply. Business volumes may be down, but there may be opportunities ahead. For example, consider re-purposing your production line to meet the needs of an industry facing shortages.

Don’t forget to check your supply chain. Many businesses are currently grappling with supply disruptions leading to a shortage of parts and pieces. If this is the case for your company, you may not be able to reach your production targets.

Align your workforce with projected needs

Once you’ve established new production forecasts, it’s time to adjust your workforce planning accordingly.

Make sure the environment is safe for workers.

Create temporary staff reduction strategies.

Be creative

Revisit all variable costs. You might find interesting opportunities.

Convert fixed costs into variable costs whenever possible.

Assess and test several different scenarios. Prepare a cash budget to properly evaluate your financial needs. It’s important to plan out the disruption period, as well as the revitalization period.

Calculate your break-even point

You need to know your break-even point in order to develop a short-term action plan.

Make sure your production forecasts and costs are equal to your projected earnings.

If the scale doesn’t balance, see if you can adjust operations or find ways to cut costs. Be conservative in your estimates.

Set indicators and keep your eye on the goal

You now have a plan. It may not be your dream scenario, but at least it’s realistic and carefully thought-out. Your next task is to make sure your plan can be implemented and tracked effectively.

This involves setting key indicators. You don’t need to define the whole set. Instead, focus on those that are crucial to your plan’s success, such as:

  • Cash levels;
  • Sales;
  • Backlog;
  • Inventory;
  • Employee numbers;
  • Hourly productivity;
  • Profit per order.

Analyze profitability and fine-tune your plan

It never makes sense to sell products or services at a loss. This is doubly true today, especially if you’re short on material or human resources. To get the most from what you have, you should:

  • Assess product and customer profitability based on historical data, and update your priorities based on these insights;
  • Reassess your sales prospects by focusing on your most profitable products and clients.

A healthy dose of optimism is good for business, especially when times are tough. By carefully assessing your situation and developing a solid plan of action, you’ll be able to make informed decisions no matter what comes up. And if you need a hand, we’re here to help.

30 Mar 2020  |  Written by :

Eugène Gilbert is a Business Transformation expert at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton.

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