OHS Canada Magazine

Should employers be encouraging vaccines for employees?

As organizations plan to ‘reboard’ staff, inoculation will be a factor


Conversations with employees surrounding vaccine encouragement and education occupy a complex and nuanced space. (FatCamera/Getty Images)

This story was originally published by Talent Canada, a sister publication to OHS Canada.

One of Canada’s first vaccine-related employment policies was announced this past week, with the Ontario government mandating that staff employed by long-term care homes must provide proof of full vaccination or medical exemption, or be required to undergo an educational program on the benefits of vaccination.

With COVID-19 cases entering a long-overdue downward trend — driven in large part by wider vaccine distribution — this light at the end of the tunnel is sure to inspire murmurs of return-to-office strategies.

As these strategies take shape, discussions surrounding vaccine policies in the workplace, akin to the new long-term care mandate, may become more commonplace.

“What we’re hearing from our clients is the issue of how and what one can say or expect employees to do when it comes to getting vaccinated,” said Cissy Pau, principal consultant at Vancouver’s Clear HR Consulting.

Handling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the workplace

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Safety vs. privacy

Conversations with employees surrounding vaccine encouragement and education occupy a complex and nuanced space.

Pau highlighted that not only are vaccines an issue of both workplace safety and employee privacy, but for many provinces, they are also one of the primary factors in making return to work possible in the first place, due vaccination rates’ role in reopening plans.

Because of the impact and importance that company vaccine encouragement can play in impending back-to-work policies, Pau advocated making vaccination discourse a part of back-to-work discussions with staff.

“Having regular communications about returning to the office and restart plans opens up the degree to which they revolve around vaccination rates,” Pau said, “which gives employers an opportunity to highlight the importance of vaccines.”

To properly begin these conversations, Pau recommended that organizations forgo any mandatory protocols and instead make vaccine initiatives “about encouraging and discussing the benefits behind getting the vaccine, and what can be done once people are vaccinated and what the workplace will look like.”

Guidance on COVID-19 vaccine policies for employees

OH&S factors in policy

The influence employers have in encouraging their workforce to get vaccinated creates a responsibility that goes beyond just working toward reopening into a new normal, according to Norm Keith, partner at Fasken in Toronto.

“There’s a great deal of responsibility, but also legal liability on employers to make the workplace safe,” Keith said. “As things open up, with vaccination, the question becomes: does an employer fulfill its occupational health and safety law duties fully if it does not have a strong vaccination policy? I think the answer is no.”

When fulfilling the responsibility to develop a clear and actionable vaccine policy for one’s workplace, Keith echoed Pau’s insistency on an approach of strong encouragement over anything mandatory, along with prioritizing the privacy of one’s employees.

He also shared the importance of communicating how vaccine policies relate to your employees’ rights as a member of the workplace.

Medical or religious exemptions from vaccinations notwithstanding, simply refusing to take the vaccine for ideological or political reasons offers employees little legal protection, Keith said.

“’Don’t I have a right not to be told what to do with my body?’ Yes, of course you have a right, but also, if you don’t comply with the terms of employment, you don’t have a right to a job, either,” he said. “So, nobody has to get vaccinated, but the issues aren’t about an employee’s rights, it’s about compliance with a reasonable employer policy.”

Ultimately, Keith believes that the vaccine’s efficacy in protecting employees from hospitalization and death due to the spread of COVID-19 makes a vaccinated workforce an essential facet of safe occupational environments moving forward.

“Is there the odd side effect? Yes. Should you get medical assessment if you’re in a higher risk group? Absolutely,” said Keith.“But if you take the vaccine, you’re guaranteed to not get sick to the point of being in the hospital or dying. Does that help to cultivate worker safety? Of course it does.”

Jack Burton is a freelance writer in Toronto.


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6 Comments » for Should employers be encouraging vaccines for employees?
  1. Gabor Lantos says:

    Will WC/WSIB cover injury/illness caused by employer required vaccinations?

  2. Rev. Bruce Lacillade, Ph.D. says:

    As far as health and safety are concerned, the Covid 19 vaccines are a non-issue. Despite the hype, money and power are the driving forces behind the Covid flu virus.
    Thousands of people with compromised immune systems die each year from the seasonal flu. This is no different.

  3. John Santos says:

    It should be about managing reasonable risk. COVID has serious consequences for the elderly so would agree that old age homes should require it, as the risk is greater. In an office with generally young adults in a highly vaccinated province – I would say absolutely not. The COVID death rates are now below the flu rates – do employers start demanding flu vaccines now – what about other diseases with higher mortality rates – do we need to be vaccinated for those to come to work now?

  4. Bill W. says:

    Employers who require mandatory vaccination for employees must guarantee the safety of any programs or procedures knowing that the manufacturers, administrators (including physicians), and program directors (including governments and health organizations) legally bear no responsibility.

    The Employer must understand that they bear full responsibility and liability related to any unsafe or adverse outcome of their actions and recommendations.

    Employers should ask their insurance providers for liability coverage in case their actions are deemed to cause/have caused damage.
    It’s the low fruit that is easiest to pick.

    Further, I agree with Brian Nordeman’s comments in response to this article when it was published by Tanlent Canada as follows:
    quote;
    …Governments and private businesses cannot impose mandatory vaccinations. This would be unconstitutional and/or illegal and unenforceable. Especially since this “vaccine” is not approved by the FDA and is still in the experimental trial stage.
    I think Keith better do his homework when he say’s “But if you take the vaccine, you’re guaranteed to not get sick to the point of being in the hospital or dying.” As of May 28, 2021 the CDC reported 4,406 deaths and 262,521 injuries due to the experimental Covid shots. This information is tracked in VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System). More deaths in 6 months than the total number of deaths reported to VAERS following vaccination in the past 23 years! According to the European Database of Adverse Drug Reactions for the Covid-19 shots the death toll is 13,867 and 1,354,336 injuries…as of June 5.
    As an employer I would never ask this of my employees. It’s up to them if they want to take a chance and be part of this experiment. I see a lot of lawsuits coming down the pipe.
    unquote;

    Poor journalistic research to state “With COVID-19 cases entering a long-overdue downward trend — driven in large part by wider vaccine distribution…” when there is no proof that this is the case. Perhaps missing a preamble of “In this journalist’s professional opinion …”

    Poor judgement by Talent Canada and OHS on publishing what amounts to be fear tactics expressed by Mr. Keith whether intentional or through ignorance.

    • Heather Chapman says:

      Bill W. I agree with your statement 100% ! We should have the choice to be vaccinated or not and it should not interfere with our job.
      Especially considering these are trial vaccines they are not FDA-approved I believe these people are on a slippery slope trying to mandate , I am currently at home not working because my employer has mandated the vaccine , I am told I’m not fired but I cannot return to work until “covid”is over.

  5. Tasha S says:

    Well said in the above comments!

    In particular, it is completely ludicrous that Keith has stated in the article “But if you take the vaccine, you’re guaranteed to not get sick to the point of being in the hospital or dying.” Taking a few short minutes for independent research provides extensive contradictory evidence to this statement.

    Shame on you, OHS Canada, for publishing such a blatantly misleading and one-sided article!!!

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