Mandatory Vaccinations In The Workplace
Many workplaces have started to release their official policies regarding mandatory vaccinations. Examples of workplaces asking for mandatory vaccinations include institutions such as the University of Toronto, the University of Ottawa as well as government entities like City of Toronto and York Region, among others. This article provides an overview of how employees can navigate returning to the workplace if their employer implements a mandatory vaccine policy.
What Are Employers Asking For From Their Employees?
As vaccination rates increase and lockdown restrictions ease, some employers are resuming in-person work in varying capacities. Generally, if employees are returning to work, they can expect, at a minimum, requirements to observe safety protocols. For example, employees may be asked to complete COVID-19 declaration forms before entering work, practice social distancing and wear masks in the office. Moreover, there may be possible restrictions on how many people can attend work a day. In some cases, employees can expect their employers to implement mandatory vaccine policies, especially if they work in an industry that may interact with vulnerable populations such as retirement homes and hospitals.
How Can Employees Respond to Mandatory Vaccinations in the Workplace?
Currently, there is no legislation in Ontario or Canada requiring employees to receive mandatory vaccinations against Covid-19. Therefore, while employers can implement mandatory vaccines, it is unlikely that they can force employees to take the vaccine.
There are also a few potential exemptions under Ontario’s Human Rights Code that would provide employees with grounds to refuse vaccination. These exemptions can include:
- Health reasons (ex. complications relating to disabilities, allergies to vaccine, etc.); and
- Religious reason.
Employees can expect employers to ask for documentation relating to any vaccination exceptions. Understandably, some employees may not feel comfortable providing documentation relating to their health. It is important in these scenarios for employers to reasonably inquire and gage with their employee on their exemptions. If such claims are substantiated, employers will have to make reasonable efforts in accommodating their staff and employees who are unable to vaccinate themselves.
It is important to note, declining to get vaccinated based on personal preferences or political beliefs are not considered exceptions under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Employees will have a difficult time finding accommodation under this ground with their employer.
Depending on the industry and circumstances, it is possible that employers will be able to dismiss employees who refuse to get vaccinated for reasons outside of the aforementioned exemptions. However, employers should err on the side of caution and accommodate their employees as much as possible in order to avoid claims of constructive dismissals.
What Are the Possible Outcomes From Mandatory Vaccinations in the Workplace?
Recent workplace trends suggest that work from home is here to stay. This is evidenced by major companies like Shopify moving to completely remote work models until at least 2022. For those employees who work in similar settings such as offices, the continuation of work-from-home trends means that they will likely be able to avoid the vaccine if they so choose. For other industries that may require a hybrid model or full return to work, this may pose as a challenge. This will be a critical time for both employees and employers.
Considering the many factors that may go into dismissing an unvaccinated employee, employers should consult employment and human rights lawyers when creating their COVID-19 vaccination policies.
The bottom line is: if employers terminate employees for refusing to be vaccinated, employees are owed a termination or severance package for the termination.
If you are an employee and having issues in the workplace due to being unvaccinated, or an employer who is considering a mandatory vaccination policy in the workplace, our team of experienced legal professionals can help.