'They could be fired': Employees may need to show proof of vaccination as workplaces reopen
As Ontario inches toward its economic reopening and employers prepare to recall their workers, labour lawyers are warning that in some cases employees may need to be vaccinated to hold onto their jobs.
“Any employee working cheek-to-jowl with other employees could be ordered to be vaccinated,” employment lawyer Howard Levitt said Monday. “If they don’t, they could be fired.”
Levitt predicts that requiring employees who work alongside others to be fully immunized could be part of the province’s post-pandemic normal, given that employers are legally obligated to operate a safe workplace—and could face steep fines and other tough penalties if they don’t.
The main exceptions would be on medical or religious grounds, which Levitt says would have to be substantive and documented.
“There would have to be accommodations for such situations,” Lai-King Hum, founder of Hum Law Firm, told CTV Toronto on Monday.
“In some workplaces that may mean that those employees would have to work in an area where they are not in contact with other employers.”
But there is no legal requirement for employers to accommodate employees who refuse to be vaccinated by offering separate workspaces or work-from-home options, according to Levitt.
Quebec recently said that certain health care workers would need to be fully vaccinated, but a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Labour said Monday that the provincial government is not considering any vaccine mandates.
In the U.S., Saks is requiring immunization for workers heading back to head office, and the cast and crew of the broadway production Hamilton are also required to be vaccinated. Airlines like United and Delta have imposed vaccination criteria on new hires.
Labour lawyers say any vaccine requirement in Ontario workplaces could apply to staff who work alongside colleagues, and especially the public, but not to employees who work-from-home.
Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act does not directly address vaccination or the enforcement of employer vaccination policies for workers.