It’s been three long years of ever-changing expectations about our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As governments and organizations are reassessing the cost/benefit analysis of risk reduction measures, mandatory vaccination policies are front and centre. Now that the Ontario government is encouraging long-term care facilities to allow unvaccinated staff in long-term care facilities,1 other employers should consider – is it time to update or even eliminate our mandatory vaccination policy?
Long-term care homes suffered a heavy toll during the pandemic, with the result that risk reduction measures in them have been stringent and wide-ranging. However, in a sign that times are changing, Ontario’s provincial government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, has announced that, effective March 31, 2023;
- Testing of asymptomatic staff, caregivers, and visitors is no longer necessary
- Residents, caregivers, and visitors no longer need to be masked outside
- Daily temperature screening of residents is no longer required
- Social activities can resume without physical distancing
However, the most important announcement for other employers is the following statement from the government’s news release:
Long-term care homes that have retained COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination requirements are also encouraged to revisit their policies and consider allowing visitors and qualified staff, regardless of their vaccination status.
Simply put, if the government is encouraging long-term care homes to permit unvaccinated employees to return to work, labour arbitrators and courts may do the same for the employees of other types of workplaces. Employers with unvaccinated employees being held out of the workplace on unpaid leaves should turn their minds to this issue and make principled decisions about their expectations for vaccinations going forward.