In the coming months, widespread distribution of vaccines is expected to bring much-needed respite, especially for businesses affected by the lockdowns.
However, Canada’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan is still in its early phase. Every day, new developments and data help us get a better idea of what the near future may look like.
Here are some answers to questions employers may have about how vaccines may affect day-to-day operations in the workplace.
Will vaccinated employees still have to physically distance and wear masks?
Research is still ongoing as to whether vaccinated people can develop asymptomatic infections and spread COVID-19. It may also take several months before majority of the population in Canada is vaccinated and restrictions are lifted. We would advise that even as your employees start getting the shot, you should continue physical distancing, hygiene practices, using face masks and protective barriers in the workplace.
Can I set up a vaccination clinic at my workplace?
Employers may not be able to do so while the vaccine supplies are limited. But once the vaccine becomes widely available, a vaccination clinic at work may make it easier for employees to get immunized.
Till then, employers can still educate employees about the vaccine process and recommend that they get it once it is available.
It is important that the vaccine is administered correctly if you open a vaccination clinic at work. To do so, you must keep track of the vaccine brand used and the date of the first dose so that the second dose can be given on time.
Can I set up COVID-19 testing at my workplace?
Employers who’d like to provide optional testing services at their workplace should keep some things in mind. Though recommended, testing is not mandatory for employees unless they have COVID-19 symptoms. Or if they are at risk of exposure due to being in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 symptoms. At present, some cities, like Toronto, require that if two or more workers in a workplace test positive within a 14-day period, notice must be given to their local public health unit.
Can I make it mandatory for my staff to get vaccinated?
Like the flu shot, the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory by law. It is unlikely that the government will make it compulsory due to human and civil rights concerns. You may put your business at risk of a lawsuit if you try to impose a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy in your workplace.
There may also be medical reasons, such as a pre-existing health condition or allergy to the vaccine’s ingredients, which prevent some employees from getting the vaccine. If you push an employee to get the shot and they later experience side effects because of it, they could consider legal action against you.
Can I dismiss unvaccinated staff or ban them from the workplace?
While you can't do so, you must take all reasonable precautions for the health and safety of employees in the workplace. If the risk of transmission in the workplace is high and the levels of community spread of COVID-19 are high as well, you may ask unvaccinated staff to go on leave. But you won’t be able to do so once the restrictions are relaxed and the risks are not as high.
Employers can’t terminate workers for not getting vaccinated either. If you terminate an employee for refusing the vaccine, they may bring forward a human rights claim.
How do I manage health and safety in my workplace with unvaccinated staff?
The best you can do is educate your employees on the safety and benefits of the vaccine. You should recommend that those workers who can, should get the shot.
However, some employees may not want to or be able to get the vaccine. A possible solution then could be an HR policy that allows unvaccinated employees to continue working from home. If that is not possible, make sure unvaccinated staff at work follow the existing health and safety guidelines on physical distancing, masks and maintaining respiratory and hand hygiene.
Protect your workplace by continuing with sanitization procedures, staff screening and contact tracing. You may also want to consider offering paid sick leave so that employees stay home when they feel sick.
Do you need help creating health and safety policies for the pandemic?
Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety, or employment advice you may need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.