With many Society employers actively contemplating workplace policies on vaccines, the Society updated members in early September on how the Society is approaching this issue.
As the provincial government has not created a single mandate or standard for workplace vaccine policies, each employer’s policy will be different. The Society is coordinating its work on each employer’s policy across locals to share experiences and research, and ensure members’ interests are appropriately represented. The Society is also supported by internal and external legal counsel.
While caselaw has yet to be settled on these issues, in the context of a global pandemic, the Society has been advised that employers can likely establish vaccine mandates within workplaces provided they respect collective agreements, as well as human rights and privacy laws. Based on legal precedents in other contexts, this generally means that there must be medical and religious exemptions permitted. The Ontario Human Rights Commission published a policy statement that addresses these issues on September 22, 2021.
An employee who receives a vaccine exemption may be required by their employer to meet alternative safety requirements, such as frequent testing for COVID-19 and wearing additional personal protective equipment.
Where an employee is not vaccinated and does not have a human rights-based exemption, the Society has seen a range of consequences established through the various mandates announced to date in non-Society workplaces. It is the Society’s view that where a Society-represented employee objects to vaccination without a legitimate exemption each case must be examined on its own merit, and an employer’s disciplinary decision must be based on each individual’s set of circumstances. Where a Society member has meritorious grounds for filing a grievance related to a vaccine policy, the union will do so.
The Society supports public health measures to increase vaccination rates, including vaccine mandates, as an essential means of protecting everyone’s health and safety and defeating the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the union’s position is that this must be accomplished in a fair, reasonable, transparent and equitable manner, and in compliance with members’ collective agreements as well as applicable human rights codes and other laws.
Members with questions or comments on this issue are advised to contact their local leadership. Find your Local Vice President, Unit Director and Delegate at www.thesociety.ca/members_portal.