Northern Exposure

Toronto’s G20 Summit — Lessons for Employers about High-Security

By Patrick Gannon

The G20 Summit of world leaders will be in Toronto June 26-27. The summit is expected to draw considerable attention and thousands of protesters from around the world. Like the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, there will be intensive security measures and lots of potential disruptions.

As the summit will be held at a convention center in the downtown core, it gives rise to many issues for downtown employers. And employers outside the downtown area will be affected too, given that the central hub for commuter trains is in the highest security zone. What can employers expect and how should they respond when faced with this kind of massive, high-security event in their neighborhood?

  • Absenteeism and lateness. Employers should expect more absenteeism and lateness if employees travel through or near established security zones. Like with any major event, you are still entitled to expect your employees to take reasonable steps to get to work on time. Don’t be afraid to review attendance polices and expectations with your employees and remind them that they should be leaving themselves enough time to account for delays. You also can suggest that employees take alternate routes to avoid congestion and disruption.
  • Hours of work. Another response to an event of this magnitude is to consider altering employees’ hours of work to avoid periods of high congestion. If you do so, provide as much notice as possible to employees so they can adjust their schedules. Some employees may be unable to alter their schedules, and employers may have to accommodate them (e.g., allowing them to take vacation time or work from home). If a trade union represents some or all of your employees, be sure to advise it of any changes.
  • Overtime. As is the case with any major disruption, employers may have an increased need for overtime during the week leading to the G20 Summit. Employers should plan and budget for this. You also should review your overtime policies and/or collective agreement to see if you can require overtime. If you can, how much overtime can each employee work?
  • Alternate working arrangements. Some employers may consider implementing alternate work arrangements for this week. Many employees may be able to perform their work from home, for example. If you allow your employees to work from home, don’t be afraid to remind them that their hours of work remain the same –- if they usually are expected to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the same schedule applies at home.
  • Safety. As with any extraordinary event, employers should remind their employees to be safe. In previous summits, protests frequently have been violent. Employers might consider advising their employees to:
    • dress more casually to blend in with the protesters;
    • avoid traveling near protests; and
    • avoid crowded areas and unnecessary contact or conversation with protesters.

As was the case with the Olympics earlier this year, delay and inconvenience during the summit will exist. Some employees will be absent, others will be late, and many more may arrive at work frustrated by their morning commute or contact with a protester. Although you’re entitled to maintain productivity and professionalism at the office, be sure to consider these circumstances when considering disciplinary penalties.