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Guiding Principles

(Updated November 2021)

  1. For the 2021/22 academic year, we will continue to deliver on the academic and research mission of the University, while prioritizing the health, safety and well-being of all members of our community.
  2. In doing so, we will remain focused on supporting and enabling the success of our students, delivering a high-quality learning environment and overall student experience.
  3. Our goal is to welcome new and returning students back to campus as soon as this can be done safely and in accordance with Public Health guidance and government protocols.
  4. We will support return to work plans that deliver our programs, support our students, learning and research and enhance McMaster’s sense of community.
  5. While activities and people will return to their McMaster location in the new year, we support flexible arrangements that will strengthen the ability for people to contribute to the success of their students, programs and departments.
  6. We will maintain our focus on research excellence and on supporting the work of our researchers across all disciplines, as well as enabling and advancing our long history of creativity and innovation.
  7. We will continue to uphold our core University values, principles and policies, including our focus on inclusivity, accommodation and respect for one another, and our collegial decision-making processes. Any revisions or updating of policies will continue to be developed through the University’s pre-existing governance processes.
  8. We will continue to make fiscally prudent decisions that support our ongoing stability and success as an institution, balancing risk with opportunity.
  9. We will continue to work together as a community to support our students, faculty and staff across the University and will ensure that information, plans and decisions are communicated clearly and promptly.

Exploring Back to Mac Work Arrangements

Please see the Message from the President and Provost Regarding the Winter Term regarding timing for in-person and hybrid work requirements.

McMaster University values its people and the important work they do in support of the University’s mission and strategic priorities. As we look forward to resuming in-person classes for Winter 2022, leaders are encouraged to reflect on what has worked well for their teams during the pandemic and retain those learnings in planning for winter and beyond. We support the need for more flexibility, connectivity, and inclusion through new optimized work arrangements. This is a time to begin to consider what the ‘next normal’ may be for the work of our teams, and to continue to be agile in response to evolving public health direction.

For those areas that do want to consider piloting flexible/hybrid work arrangements, it is recommended that leadership teams within a unit or department assess their service level requirements together by role, prior to considering individual employee arrangements. These pilot plans should continue to address flexibility, support and accessibility considerations and should leave room for evaluation as the pandemic continues to evolve.

Use the following steps to support analysis and contact your HR Strategic Partner, Employee and Labour Relations or Organizational Development to discuss staffing arrangements or workplace plans. This material is a resource for your planning process for pilot plans as you determine what is best for your own unit or team, in consultation with your Dean and AVP. Additional materials are under development in support of longer-term University planning, staying closely aligned to public health guidance.

Consider the following in reviewing requirements:

  • What are the service and student experience expectations for our work? How are these best met? Consider feedback received from students or those who receive services / supports from your unit. Be creative when considering your requirements and do not feel the need to return to pre-pandemic levels if that’s not what recent data is indicating.
  • What job responsibilities must truly be completed on-site to meet service expectations? How many staff deliver this work? Can a rotational approach to on-site duties or work hours amongst a group of staff meet service level needs? How are other areas on campus, with similar business needs and positions, meeting service expectations?
  • Is on-site presence required for multiple staff simultaneously in support of necessary collaborative outcomes? What is the impact on other employees or the broader work unit / department of adjusting work arrangements?
  • Consider the workspace configuration and measures required to ensure the workspace is safe for students, staff and faculty. Physical distancing of 2 metres (or 6 feet) is expected to continue in the winter for non-instructional spaces on campus. How does this impact how our services are delivered?
    • The health and safety of our community will remain our top priority. Though we are planning for an in-person winter term, we will be ready to pivot if necessary and will continue to closely follow all public health mandates. Within a strong health and safety framework including Provincial and Regional Public Health requirements, McMaster is committed to providing safe on-campus staff, faculty and student experiences aligned with the University’s mission, and to support continued empathy, patience and flexibility when reviewing staff work arrangements.
  • Are there health and safety measures required for the different work arrangements being considered? Review the Workplace Health and Safety Guidance, including available information regarding standard operating procedures, checklists, guidelines and current public health direction regarding masks, screening and PPE. Continue to consider the University’s approach to hazard control.

Flexible work arrangements may not be suitable for all employees/positions across the University. Requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the supervisor of the employee/work unit and/or other leaders, as appropriate. To help inform leader decision making, it is important to consider that workplace flexibility is a key driver for employee engagement and retention.

Employees that may not be eligible for flexible work arrangements:

  • New employees to the University may not be eligible for flexible work arrangements until a suitable onboarding period has been satisfied and the employee has clearly demonstrated an understanding of the roles and responsibilities required to successfully perform their duties. This will also be considered on a case-by-case basis by the employee’s supervisor, with input from Human Resources.
  • A number of Collective Agreements include language related to flexible work. When considering flexible work options for represented employees, please be sure to connect with Human Resources to ensure these provisions are considered.
  • Validate the range of emotions employees are likely to experience. These will range from extreme anxiety over returning to a changed workplace to relief and excitement about moving out of isolation.
    • Ask employees to share their fears and concerns around returning to work and address as many as you can before the return to eliminate or reduce some of the stress.
    • Consider scheduling some on-site activities toward the end of the fall (office clean-up, outdoor unit meeting etc.) to help employees see the changes to campus and their workspace and be able to raise questions.
  • Consider how you can empower staff to contribute to the planning – this demonstrates trust and may support increased employee engagement.
    • Highlight the mission of the University and your team, and your thinking with respect to how to meet the needs of students and other campus community members. Outline the scenarios used for planning and service needs.
    • It is important to be transparent with staff members regarding on-site service expectations of the community. Fully remote (100%) work arrangements will be unlikely for most of the campus community. That said, individual or team discussions can be helpful when brainstorming approach to meeting service needs and identifying creative and flexible work arrangements, including hybrid work arrangements that allow for some on-site and some remote work options. Remember a successful hybrid work arrangement can provide both employee flexibility and exceptional service delivery!
  • Support your team members in staying physically and mentally healthy through the transition.
  • Individual discussions are required when addressing personal or accommodation needs.
    • Remind staff that plans continue to be transitional and as a result, all work arrangements continue to be temporary through the Winter 2022 term.
    • Review and understand the status of provincial health and safety guidance.
    • Encourage patience! These work arrangements are new and should adapt over time.

Also remember to be kind to yourself – link in with other leaders, your supervisor, or Human Resources for support.

Flexible work arrangements allow employees to alter their work schedule, the number of hours they work or the location where they do their work, or to take leave from work to meet responsibilities outside of work (as defined by the Canadian Labour Program).

Examples of flexible work schedules and locations: 

Hybrid work arrangements allow employees to fulfill their job responsibilities with time spent both at a university location and a remote working location. Scheduling options:

  • Split week – This is a popular hybrid model where days of the week are split up between remote and in-office work, for different teams or on an individual basis. It enables supervisors to stay in touch with their teams and allows for face-to-face meetings and collaboration time on a regular basis. The employee and/or team and the supervisor work together to set specific days to be on campus and these are scheduled to ensure appropriate coverage of service. Overlapping days allows for scheduling of in-person team meetings and collaboration time but this can also be considered on a less frequent basis as needed (e.g., monthly).
  • Week by week – This alternative is used to allow large teams to use office space together at the same time and meet up for reviews, deadlines, and updates. This is useful where the majority of the team has some on-site needs, but not every day, and not concurrently with other team members. In this case, a Team A / B schedule may address service needs, as well as flexibility for staff. Overlapping days could be considered on a quarterly or semi-annual basis as needed for broader team development and collaboration time.

Examples of flexible hours: 

Flexible Hours Arrangements allow employees, on an individual or collective basis, to have some flexibility in the start and end times of their working day, and usually takes the form of a pre-arranged alternative schedule. Core business hours or client/student facing needs may limit the feasibility for flexible/staggered hours arrangements for some positions.

  • Benefits of flextime
    • Reduced time commuting by starting and ending work before or after rush hour.
    • Employees can take advantage of quieter office time to allow better focus on uninterrupted work while most co-workers are not at the office, either earlier or later in the day.
    • May improve customer service by staggering employees’ working hours and extending the hours of operation accordingly.
    • Can reduce lateness and absenteeism, increase employee morale, and is an incentive for recruitment and retention.
  • Considerations for flextime
    • May not be feasible in certain contexts; for example, for positions in departments that require employees to be available to provide services during specific operating hours,
    • May raise concerns about health and safety in the workplace as employees are working alone outside of normal working hours.
    • Leaders need to structure schedules while keeping in mind operational needs and core office hours, where applicable.
  • Staggered Hours – A staggered hours arrangement may see an employee have a consistent weekly schedule, consisting of different start and end time on certain days of the week. This is to accommodate operational requirements or other priorities an employee may have, such as elder or childcare responsibilities, or commuting considerations.
  • Pre-Retirement Reduced Workload – Details related to pre-retirement reduced workloads are outlined in the corresponding policy, which allows for salaried support staff nearing retirement age to reduce their workload as much as 50% and still receive full pension credits and benefit coverage until retirement. Salaried staff wishing to participate in the reduced workload plan are encouraged to speak to their supervisor and HR representative to gather more details. Specific steps for proposing and implementing this flexible work arrangement are outlined in the policy.

Implementing Flexible Work Arrangements

The university continues to encourage flexible work arrangements. A policy and formal guidelines on flexible work arrangements will be created over the Winter term in consultation with the Workplace and Employee Experience Working Committee (which was established in February 2021 as a subset of a larger initiative to guide planning for our Return to McMaster). Additional community consultation and input opportunities will be established as this work proceeds.

As team members continue to return to campus, review appropriate health and safety checklists and guidelines to ensure that your space is ready for a safe return.  

If team members are continuing to work remotely, it’s a great time to ensure that the following are reviewed:  

Check out the Facility Services webpage on Space Planning Tips to find the following:

  • Tips to help managers set up office space for teams, while thinking about physical distancing and hybrid work.
  • Space planning tips for private offices, open office spaces, small and large meeting rooms, while maintaining physical distancing.
  • An FAQ about furniture, office layouts, hotel station layouts and physical barriers (plexiglass).

Check out the University Technology Services (UTS) website to find the following:

Preparing and supporting employees to work onsite

See also the Back to Mac: Supervisor Guide to Winter 2022 and visit the Back to Mac website for additional updates.

Important dates:

Working on-site and flexible work arrangements 

  • Find helpful information about supporting teams who are returning to working in person, including exploring work arrangements, flexible scheduling, ergonomics, space planning, furniture and physical barriers on the Human Resources website 

Mandatory Training  

  • All staff and faculty who have not yet attended work in person during the pandemic are required to complete the mandatory Back to Mac COVID-19 training prior to being on site.  

MacID Badge, Parking, and Commuting 

  • Find information about requesting MacID photo access card for staff on the Security Services website 
  • Full-time and part-time parking permits are available during winter term for staff and faculty members in McMaster lots. Check the Parking Services website for updates. 


MacCheck daily screening 

  • All students, staff and faculty are required to use MacCheck before coming on site to complete daily health screening.  A green check mark in MacCheck means you are clear to attend a McMaster site that day.  


  • Masks are required in all indoor spaces. More information on masking can be found here.

Physical distancing, eating and meeting

  • Keeping a physical distance of 2 metres is required in workspaces such as meeting rooms and offices. Physical distancing is not required in designated instructional areas such as classrooms, laboratories, libraries.
  • Follow the guidelines for spaces and eating on campus. 
  • In alignment with provincial restrictions, events and meeting spaces are closed until January 27. Business meetings should be held virtually wherever possible between now and January 27. When in-person meetings resume, follow guidelines for meetings, including masking and physical distancing. 

Ventilation and Cleaning 

  • McMaster takes ventilation seriously and continually looks for ways to update our ventilation plan to adopt industry guidelines and best practices. Learn more on our website.   
  • McMaster’s cleaning plan involves disinfecting high touchpoint surfaces on an increased frequency schedule, hand sanitizer and wipes in public areas, disinfecting classrooms nightly and public washrooms twice daily at a minimum. Learn more on our website. 
  • For departmental offices or meeting spaces, both hand sanitizer and wipes can be purchased from the Campus Store. 

It is normal for some to be apprehensive about returning to campus. Make sure to create a psychologically safe workspace. Many employees also have access to the Employee & Family Assistance Program and can be reminded of this confidential service available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Additional resources and reading:

The health, safety and well-being of the McMaster community is a top priority. In accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, supervisors must take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers. Additionally, workers have an Occupational Health and Safety Act duty to report any known workplace hazard or violation of the Act to the employer or supervisor.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act also provides workers with:

  • The right to know
  • The right to participate, and;
  • The right to refuse unsafe work

If you have employees or students that are approved to work/study onsite, refer to the Supervisor Requirements on the Workplace Health and Safety Guidance during COVID-19 webpage and complete the related Supervisor Workplace Checklist. Use the Workplace Guidelines to develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for onsite activities. These tools and SOPs should be reviewed in detail with employees and students to provide assurance on health and safety measures in place, prior to any return to on campus working or activities. These actions will support the University’s commitment to the right to know and the right to participate.

Some employees may have additional questions about their safety in the workplace, as it relates to COVID-19, or the availability of additional, reasonable precautionary measures that may be necessary, based on the nature of the role. There are additional materials with respect to Health and Safety in the workplace available to employees and Supervisors.

Leaders are encouraged to engage with their employees and teams on any concerns identified and consider any further updates or amendments to health and safety practices in support of employee safety.

For additional support, contact Environmental & Occupational Health Support Services ( and visit the resources for employees working onsite webpage. As there may be specific additional requirements for healthcare or hospital settings, in Faculty of Health Sciences, please contact the Faculty of Health Sciences Safety Office (

Should you be approached by an employee regarding a health and safety related work refusal, further to RMM 114 Work Refusal Program, please connect directly with EOHSS or the FHSSO team for further support.

COVID-19 Health Guidelines

See also the COVID-19 FAQ for Chairs and Employment Supervisors of Faculty and Staff.

For additional support, contact Employee Health Services.

When an individual completes the recommended Ontario COVID-19 self-assessment tool, they will be advised to self-isolate or isolate in various circumstances.  Employees may also be directed by public health to self-isolate or quarantine directly, based on identified potential exposure for individuals. Workplace guidance for these situations are provided below:

  1. Remote Work – Employees who are required to isolate in accordance with Public Health guidelines should speak with their supervisors about the ability to work remotely as a first step. Supervisors are encouraged to enable this where there is work available that can be completed remotely during some or all of the isolation period.

Reminder: If an employee is ill / symptomatic and unable to work, they should instead follow their normal absence reporting protocols with their supervisor, and utilize available sick leave / salary continuance / disability benefits.

  1. Use of Available Paid Time – Employees who are directed to isolate and are unable to work remotely, may elect to use available paid time (vacation, compensating time off, lieu days, personal days etc.). Paid leave eligibility and amounts are defined within relevant collective agreements, or terms and conditions of employment. If an employee has questions about availability of paid time, please speak with your supervisor or contact
  1. Job Protected Leave – Employees who are unable to work remotely and do not elect to use (or do not have access to) paid time, will be deemed to be on an unpaid Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (“IDEL”) for any required isolation period.

Leaves of 1 Month (30 Days) or Less

    • Employees are to complete the Leave of Absence (LOA) Request Form for all leaves of this nature. This form may be completed by the employee or by the supervisor or administrative support on behalf of the employee. The completed form, or any questions, should be submitted to as soon as possible.
    • For leaves of absence less than or equal to one month in duration, unless otherwise requested by the employee, it will be assumed employee benefits and pension / GRRSP plan coverage will continue and any outstanding applicable premiums will be deducted on the employee’s first pay deposit upon return to work. Any supervisor or department lead who may complete the LOA Request Form on behalf of the employee must inform the employee of these benefit and premium implications.
      • The Payroll Calendar and other related information can be found on the Payroll & Tax website. Note the delay in submitting the leave request after the payroll cut-off date will generate the overpayment and other possible pay and benefits implications.
      • Employees can inform the Human Resources Operations (HRSC) if they would like to cease benefits and pension entitlements for the duration of the leave. Please contact
    • For any interruption in earning of 5 days or more, a Record of Employment will be generated for an employee and uploaded to their Service Canada Account.

Leaves Greater Than 1 month (30 days)

    • Employees may request an IDEL for numerous reasons, as outlined. In some cases employees may need to request an IDEL for an extended duration, which may be known to exceed 30 days, or details of duration may not be fully known.
    • Employees are to complete the Leave of Absence (LOA) Request Form for all leaves of this nature. This may be completed by the employee or by the supervisor or administrative support on behalf of the employee. The completed form, or any questions, must be submitted to as soon as possible.
    • Human Resources will contact the employee and provide a letter informing the employee of options relating to their benefits / pension / GRRSP contributions during this time. Employees have the option of whether to continue these through contributions for both the employee and University portions over the duration of the leave.

Return from Leaves

    • When an employee is ready to return from their leave, whatever the duration, the HR Operations (HRSC) must be notified immediately of the date of return in order to begin reactivation of the employee record prior to the payroll cut off deadline for the respective pay period when employee starts receiving the pay. Delays in notification can lead to delays in pay for the employee. Supervisors or administrators are asked to email immediately to support initiation of employee return.

External Federal Benefits Eligibility

More details on entitlements and eligibility can be found on the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan website

Beyond workplace flexibility, which continues to be encouraged and supported by the university, employees may request accommodation – for example: due to disability or family status.

Leaders are encouraged to first have an open and supportive discussion with the employee to understand what temporary accommodations may be needed during this time, and to consider what is operationally feasible to meet these needs.

Consider the following documents:

Contact your Employee Health Services Specialist for support with accommodations that are required beyond 6 months, are complex in nature, or if remote work is not available and accommodation in the physical work environment has been requested.

Contact your Employee / Labour Relations Advisor or Human Resources Business Partner for support if you have questions regarding Family Status Accommodation requests that are complex in nature or for an extended period of time.

Depending on the circumstances, the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave may also be an appropriate option available to employees.

If you require support in working through this request, please contact Employee & Labour Relations or Employee Health Services.