As COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out across Canada, it’s important for employers to understand how the vaccines will impact the workplace. The pandemic has caused major upheaval in small and large companies, and the vaccines present a new level of hope for a return to something resembling “normalcy” in the workplace.
Currently vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca are available in Canada, and two other vaccines might be available from Novovax and Johnson & Johnson soon.
However, there are new issues for employers that arise because of the vaccines. Companies are scrambling to develop policies, processes, and programs for vaccine management, reporting and distribution. Here is the biggest legal question for employers:
Can our company mandate a COVID-19 vaccine for employees?
While governments will be unlikely to mandate vaccines, employers are in a different situation. Occupational health and safety legislation requires employers to implement every possible and reasonable precaution to protect their workers. So, would vaccines fall into that category for a global pandemic?
““My conclusion is, yes, I do believe that employers can mandate vaccination,” said Stephen Wolpert, a partner with Whitten & Lublin Employment Lawyers. If you can mandate workers to wear steel-toed boots and helmets as a condition of employment, why couldn’t you mandate vaccines to protect the worker and the workers around them?
Employers will need to wrestle with two options:
- If you DON’T mandate the vaccination, then what other measures can you take to keep the workplace safe? How will you handle workers who are uncomfortable coming to the workplace if everyone isn’t vaccinated?
- If you DO mandate the vaccination, what is the timing for that, how will you handle the time between now and whenever everyone is vaccinated? What kind of evidence will an employee need to prove vaccination? Will there be exemptions for people who cannot or will not get the vaccination for health or religious reasons?
Employers should begin a planning process that has some flexibility built in to create a mandate on vaccination, include exemptions, and develop a communications strategy for telling employees as soon as possible what is coming.
Because many companies shifted to having more flexibility with their workers who worked from home, that flexibility might need to be maintained as workers return to the workplace. Employers will need to adjust and establish new policies to accommodate healthy practices, as well as the interim period of having vaccinated and non-vaccinated employees. All of these should be considered from a legal as well as a health and safety perspective.
At Health Risk Services, we come alongside benefits managers to assist with making changes to plans to reflect new realities for employees in the workplace. We would like you to know more about how Health Risk Services can assist you with a 2021 plan to address the issues arising from COVID-19 vaccinations and how to develop policies for employees. Please schedule a Complimentary Consultation with us.
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To schedule your Complimentary Consultation with Health Risk Services, please call 403-236-9430 OR email: email@example.com