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Preventing the stigmatization of unvaccinated workers

June 29, 2021
By Kristina Vassilieva

(Weyo/Adobe Stock)

Many Canadians are now getting vaccinated or are set to receive the vaccine in the coming weeks.

The vaccination of workers is welcome news for businesses that are waiting to reopen and return to normal operations. However, some workers won’t be able to get vaccinated and this could have troubling consequences in the workplace.

According to Andrew Caldwell, HR advisory team lead at Peninsula Canada, the stigmatization of unvaccinated workers can lead to social isolation, mental health concerns and low morale among staff.

For this reason, employers are advised to create workplace policies on COVID-19 and vaccination to better manage and support all staff.


Safety concerns and employer obligations

Coming into the workplace isn’t optional for most. Some workers might feel anxious about the lack of control they have when it comes to being around unvaccinated colleagues when they are called back to their workplace.

Vaccination is a sensitive topic and feelings of fear and anxiety around this can affect working relationships and impact company morale.

“Employers have a duty to provide a safe workplace, and in most cases, this is possible to do even as some workers remain unvaccinated,” says Caldwell.

Furthermore, vaccination status is considered personal health information. Employers cannot disclose this unless they receive consent and must ensure that workers’ private information is kept confidential.

Providing accommodation to unvaccinated workers

To ensure a safe workplace for everyone, employers can require unvaccinated staff to continue following government guidelines on health and safety.

“Employers can also offer accommodations such as socially distanced workstations with Plexiglas barriers, allowing unvaccinated workers to do socially distanced work or allowing them to work remotely,” advises Caldwell.

Employers must be careful not discriminate against unvaccinated workers. Disability and creed are protected grounds under human rights legislation.

If these are the reasons why an employee does not get vaccinated, employers will be opening their business up to risk of human rights claims if they discriminate.

Supporting workers’ mental health

Some staff might be worried about colleagues’ vaccination status or about being stigmatized for not being vaccinated to the point that it can affect their mental health. Employees who experience stress, anxiety and mental health concerns related to vaccination will need the support of their employers.

“Workers should be informed of any support that is available to them, such as employee assistance programs and government resources,” says Caldwell.

“Educating workers about vaccination and how health and safety can be maintained in the workplace can further ease their concerns.”

Using workplace policies

The stigmatization of unvaccinated workers can have social consequences in the workplace.

To prevent this, employers can use their policies to ensure appropriate conduct from staff and to lay down expectations related to COVID-19 and vaccination.

Policies can remind staff that vaccination has not been made mandatory by governments in Canada, discourage staff from questioning co-workers about their vaccination status, and to remind them to remain professional when they are at work.

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

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