Employers brace for G20

Firms in downtown Toronto launch contingency plans to deal with security zone, protests
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/25/2013

Having seen one of its Ottawa branches targeted with a firebomb in May, RBC knows well the threat of activists. And with the G20 Summit to be held in Toronto on June 26 and 27, the bank’s top priorities will be the safety of employees and clients, and maintaining service, said Teri Monti, director of employee relations at RBC.

“The G20 people have advised us that we should have as few people as possible working in the downtown core, simply because of the disruption and congestion to traffic they expect through that weekend,” she said. “That’s been our major people strategy, I would say, is reducing our complement in downtown Toronto using, obviously, out-of-home strategies and alternate work sites we’ve got in place.”

RBC can also move people who can’t work from home to other locations, she said, and managers working in the downtown core are being given ideas on how to “think creatively” and assign work to people that can be done at home.

“There are lots of things that you can do at home, even if you don’t have access to, let’s say, client data remotely,” said Monti, citing online training, career and personal development work or project work.

To communicate to employees, RBC has established a G20 website on its intranet and posted a series of Q-and-As for workers. It is also advising them of potential delays around commuting and will provide a toll-free hotline for updates.

“Because we’re a financial institution, we have really robust business continuity plans in place at all times,” said Monti.

Allstream is encouraging people to take vacation or telework and it is making use of the intranet, email and phone to communicate with employees as needed.

“We are well-positioned to ensure there will be a minimal impact, thanks to remote work options like telework,” said spokesperson Greg Burch in Toronto.

A lot of employers have stated they are not going to worry about trying to cross the barricades and just have employees work from home, said Todd Bardes, president of Disaster Recovery Information Exchange in Toronto.

“We have a portion of the downtown core of Toronto where employees will probably not be able to access their workplace in a free and open manner, employees will not be able to go to work without proper and detailed identification,” he said. “There will be disruption, motorcades, cordoned-off areas. Hotel access, restaurant access, all those things that we’re so used to will not be available to many of us during those specific days and the days leading up to it.”

Organizations should have an assigned person who monitors the environment on a regular basis, particularly if the situation worsens through the work day. And there should be concerns around health and safety, said Bardes, who is also a senior associate at HZX Business Continuity Planning.

“All of a sudden you have a whole building full of people and — hopefully not — but the protest comes right in front of (your) building,” he said. “Maybe it’s easier to work someplace else and then you don’t have that responsibility that you’ve corporately taken upon yourself.”

Another option is an alternate work site, which is often part of a business continuity plan, he said.

“Watchword for employers, for corporate organizations, is try to minimize their impact and usage of the downtown core,” said Bardes. “It’s a planned event and if you do a good job, you can study your threats and what your risks are going to be and actually calculate a plan to prepare your organization.”

Made of up three hospitals in downtown Toronto, University Health Network (UHN) is always prepared for emergencies. But for the G20 Summit, it is taking a few extra precautions. It is talking to staff — which includes 12,000 workers, 3,500 students, 1,000 volunteers, 1,600 research staff and 1,000 physicians — about anticipated traffic problems and alternate arrangements, such as having people stay overnight at hotel rooms at one of its locations.

Management is also being asked to stay in town that weekend, to be available to respond if needed, said Gillian Howard, vice-president of public affairs and communications at UHN. The network has also been going through a number of code responses, to ensure employees are up to date, and is running decontamination training, should tear gas be used.

“We’re readying the place but I don’t think we’re anticipating that our day-to-day operations will change very much unless the situation warrants,” she said.

UHN also has a website where it will post information as it’s probable the switchboard could become jammed with queries, she said. Staffing is not being scaled back, however, UHN is trying to re-arrange non-essential appointments.

Staff are familiar with crisis situations, she said, and every couple of years, the hospitals in the city get together to conduct a mock disaster scenario.

“We’re looking at (the G20) as an opportunity to test some systems and update some training,’” said Howard.

Trevor Lawson admitted he is curious about the event. As a partner at law firm McCarthy Tetrault in Toronto specializing in labour and employment, his office is right on the edge of the summit’s perimeter.

“I expect a lot of people will take a wait-and-see attitude towards it and if it’s manageable and the protests don’t crystallize the way they expect them to, then I may try to come into the office,” he said. “If the protests are significant and violent and surrounding our building, then I’ll probably just avoid it and just as easily work from home.”

Some employers are offering a two-for-one deal around vacation for those days, he said.

“There’s not a real loss to the employer anyway, there’s a very good chance these employees won’t be able to get into work,” said Lawson. “Based on experiences in London and Pittsburgh, it is going to be a mess down here and (employers) have to balance the potential lost productivity over those couple of days against whether there’s going to be much accomplished if people do make it into the office and whether it’s worth any risk to their employees’ health and safety to try and get them in here.”

Despite legislation that gives workers the right to refuse unsafe work, they are still obligated to come to work, he said.

“Merely having a protest outside your building isn’t going to trigger that. If there’s some evidence the protest has been violent or some reasonable basis to conclude it’s likely to become violent, then an employee probably has a stronger case to refuse to report to work.”

But there is an onus on employers to protect employees, said Paula Allen, vice-president of organizational solutions at Shepell-fgi.

“If you were in a situation, but for work you would not have been in that situation, than any injury you sustain, your employer is liable financially for that injury.”

Employers with a solid business continuity plan should be in good shape, she said.

“There really shouldn’t be any reason why a business needs to shut down — maybe you go to a skeleton staff, maybe you have some flexibility, that’s all part of emergency measures.”

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