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Handling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the workplace

Education will be key in reducing doubt among workers


Ontario's vaccine rollout began in December and focused initially on immunizing some of the province's oldest residents in long-term care and health-care workers. (Getty Images)

As vaccine programs continue their rollout across Canada, many employers may not be sure how to handle the issue of vaccine hesitancy in their workplace.

While some workers might be very keen to get vaccinated, others may not be. For businesses, this raises concerns as unvaccinated staff will continue to be at risk of getting sick from COVID-19.

Puneet Tiwari, legal counsel and legal claims manager at Peninsula Canada in Toronto, says employers must know what rights workers have when it comes to vaccination and that education will be key in reducing doubt among workers.

Will vaccines be mandatory?

The Canadian government will not be making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory.

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This means that businesses cannot force their workers into getting the vaccine. In most cases, employers will not be able to make vaccination a necessary requirement of employment, as this could amount to a human rights violation.

“Employers would be wise to avoid pressuring their staff into getting a vaccine because they may not be able to due medical reasons, religious beliefs or due to a disability,” says Tiwari. “However, employers can strongly encourage eligible staff to get vaccinated once they have the opportunity.”

Guidance on COVID-19 vaccine policies for employees

How can employers handle workers’ concerns?

To ease workers’ doubts and help them make a decision that is right for them, employers can provide staff with education and resources on vaccines.

“Hosting an info session explaining the safety of the vaccine, the vaccination process and what happens after, can be useful in helping workers understand vaccines better,” according to Tiwari. “Being informed and up to date on the latest news can also help reduce workers’ worries and uncertainty.”

Employers can also consider using external trainers and e-learning tools to give workers insight on how vaccines can help during the pandemic. Workers should be reminded that they should be verifying the legitimacy and credibility of their information sources when doing independent research on vaccines.

What should employers do when workers refuse the vaccine?

For workers that refuse to get the vaccine, employers might have to provide accommodations up to the point of undue hardship. For example, an employer could accommodate a remote worker that refuses to get the vaccine by letting them continue working from home.

However, if returning to the office is necessary for the operation of the business, or the employee’s job duties do not allow them to work from home, it may be too difficult for the employer to accommodate them in this manner. In such a case, the employer might have to make other accommodations.

In the workplace, an unvaccinated employee could be accommodated with a separate work area that allows them to properly maintain social distance.

Employers can also require unvaccinated workers to continue following COVID-19 health and safety measures such as wearing face masks or coverings in order to protect others in the workplace, says Tiwari.

How can employers protect their business?

To protect their business, employers should do their best to accommodate unvaccinated staff, to support employees who are still undecided about the vaccine, and to protect their workplace with continued health and safety measures.

It is important that employers give workers time to make their decision on vaccination.

They may need time to do their own research or consult a physician to determine whether this is the right choice for them. Meanwhile, employers can provide staff with news updates and education on COVID-19 vaccines.

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.


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3 Comments » for Handling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the workplace
  1. Nick Kossovan says:

    Our most sacred right: The right to choose what goes into your body.

    How about this — everyone exercises their freedom to decide whether to take the #CovidVaccine and we all get along (no name-calling). What’s never discussed is that a person deciding not to get the Covid Vaccine may be doing so because they feel it’s in their best health, safety interest. I know many people who’ll be waiting 3 – 5 years before injecting themselves with the COVID vaccine. They want to see if there are any side-effects (The vaccine was developed in a hurry, no long-term trials have been done — NOBODY knows if there’ll be side-effects in 1, 3, 5 years down the road.). Everyone has the same information regarding the vaccine and everyone processes this information in a way that serves them best.

    Undeniably the entire population knows smoking, fatty foods, alcohol are detrimental to your health, yet millions continue to smoke, drink and eat junk food. That’s their right.

    Employers shouldn’t be even “trying” to coerce their employees into taking the vaccine. Besides an employee’s medical history is not any of the employee’s business. I can imagine if asked (employers wouldn’t have the right to ask for proof) employees would simply lie.

    The issue here is a person’s right to choose what goes into their body. The fact that giving up this right is being discussed shows how much government/ people want to be in control.

  2. Jim S says:

    If you are vaccinated for C-19, your body develops the antibodies to fight it : you have activated your Specific Immunity against the coronavirus. If you are exposed to C-19 and your immune system responds to it, your body develops the antibodies to fight it.

    Back in March 2020, the threat was that It was a “novelle” or “new” virus and your body would not identify as a threat – allowing the virus to spread in your body at an unmitigated rate. Both vaccine and exposure solve this.

    In the workplace, there is no difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated people – except that unvaccinated are potentially more susceptible to getting sick than a vaccinated person. So are we trying to protect the unvaccinated employee? If you are vaccinated you can still be a carrier and (although less likely) get sick – so why should unvaccinated be treated any different?

    At some point the media narrative changed from “We have to protect ourselves from a “novelle” virus so we don’t overwhelm our hospitals and people will die” to “any unvaccinated person should be quarantined” – which is fascism. Plain and simple fascism.

  3. I won’t be coercing my employees to get vaccinated. It’s their choice and their personal business.
    Myself, I had the virus in May last year, and for me it was like the flu. So I will not be taking an untested vaccine for what I would likely just spend a day or two in bed, if in the highly unlikely event that I get it again.
    I find your article quite disturbing.

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