Minden Hills staff will continue to work from the office, not at home, councillors decided during a special council meeting Oct. 22.

The meeting was called by CAO Trisha McKibbin who tabled a working at home policy. It came after the Emergency Control Group (ECG), which comprises senior staff, the mayor and deputy mayor, recommended a return-to-home in the face of rising pandemic numbers across the province.

Following the beginning of COVID-19, staff did work from home until returning July 6. Since then, like the neighbouring municipalities of Algonquin Highlands, Highlands East and Dysart et al, staff are at their various offices, meeting with ratepayers by appointment only.

McKibbin said she’d like staff to remain.

“At this current moment, based on all the safety procedures and protocols that we have in place, I would like, my personal preference is, to have staff, as long as we can, in the workplace.”

McKibbin said the ECG has created an operational guide which lays out the practices that all staff need to be undertaking to ensure all health and safety requirements are met during COVID-19. She cited social distancing, non-medical masks, disinfectant on all desks, in all washrooms, and communal areas. She said washrooms have been assigned to staff and are cleaned after each usage, there’s a visitor questionnaire and sign-in sheet for contact tracing, staff sign-in and staff COVID-19 staff assessment.

She added the policy isn’t just for this pandemic.

“This is a good policy to have in place that lays out the guidelines and responsibilities for any time staff may have to work from home. Whether that is during emergency times or those one-off situations.”

Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell agreed staff should stay where they are.

“I do not see any reason at this time that we would be sending staff home to work again. We have spent a lot of money as a municipality to be sure all the safeguards are in place for staff. It’s a large building. Everybody has their own space. We have all of the stations, even bathrooms individually separate for people,” she said.

She was also in favour of the work-from-home policy, not just for a pandemic, but other future circumstances.

Coun. Bob Carter said there didn’t appear to be an imminent health and safety issue “because we have put into place parameters … procedures to maintain the health and safety of our staff. I’m having a difficult time in seeing why we would go ahead with something like this.”

Mayor Brent Devolin said he agreed but it was worth discussing, “being mindful that this can change in a moment.”

Coun. Jennifer Hughey said the policy could apply in a number of circumstances, for example staff expecting babies, or sickness, so “we should be treating this as an overall discussion for our work from home policy …”

Coun Pam Sayne noted the township is also responsible for home work spaces and Carter said there are also privacy issues with some staff working from home.

Council received the report as information, voted to maintain the status quo as of now, and requested a more comprehensive report to follow. There has not been a new confirmed COVID case in the County since Oct. 10.

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