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Should employers be encouraging vaccines for employees?

As organizations plan to ‘reboard’ staff, inoculation will be a factor

COVID-19 vaccine mandates are becoming more commonplace in Canadian workplaces. (FatCamera/Getty Images)

One of Canada’s first vaccine-related employment policies was announced this past week, with the Ontario government mandating that staff employed by long-term care homes must provide proof of full vaccination or medical exemption, or be required to undergo an educational program on the benefits of vaccination.

With COVID-19 cases entering a long-overdue downward trend — driven in large part by wider vaccine distribution — this light at the end of the tunnel is sure to inspire murmurs of return-to-office strategies.

As these strategies take shape, discussions surrounding vaccine policies in the workplace, akin to the new long-term care mandate, may become more commonplace.

“What we’re hearing from our clients is the issue of how and what one can say or expect employees to do when it comes to getting vaccinated,” said Cissy Pau, principal consultant at Vancouver’s Clear HR Consulting.


Safety vs. privacy

Conversations with employees surrounding vaccine encouragement and education occupy a complex and nuanced space.

Pau highlighted that not only are vaccines an issue of both workplace safety and employee privacy, but for many provinces, they are also one of the primary factors in making return to work possible in the first place, due vaccination rates’ role in reopening plans.

Because of the impact and importance that company vaccine encouragement can play in impending back-to-work policies, Pau advocated making vaccination discourse a part of back-to-work discussions with staff.

“Having regular communications about returning to the office and restart plans opens up the degree to which they revolve around vaccination rates,” Pau said, “which gives employers an opportunity to highlight the importance of vaccines.”

To properly begin these conversations, Pau recommended that organizations forgo any mandatory protocols and instead make vaccine initiatives “about encouraging and discussing the benefits behind getting the vaccine, and what can be done once people are vaccinated and what the workplace will look like.”

Guidance on COVID-19 vaccine policies for employees

OH&S factors in policy

The influence employers have in encouraging their workforce to get vaccinated creates a responsibility that goes beyond just working toward reopening into a new normal, according to Norm Keith, partner at Fasken in Toronto.

“There’s a great deal of responsibility, but also legal liability on employers to make the workplace safe,” Keith said. “As things open up, with vaccination, the question becomes: does an employer fulfill its occupational health and safety law duties fully if it does not have a strong vaccination policy? I think the answer is no.”

When fulfilling the responsibility to develop a clear and actionable vaccine policy for one’s workplace, Keith echoed Pau’s insistency on an approach of strong encouragement over anything mandatory, along with prioritizing the privacy of one’s employees.

He also shared the importance of communicating how vaccine policies relate to your employees’ rights as a member of the workplace.

Medical or religious exemptions from vaccinations notwithstanding, simply refusing to take the vaccine for ideological or political reasons offers employees little legal protection, Keith said.

Handling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the workplace

“’Don’t I have a right not to be told what to do with my body?’ Yes, of course you have a right, but also, if you don’t comply with the terms of employment, you don’t have a right to a job, either,” he said. “So, nobody has to get vaccinated, but the issues aren’t about an employee’s rights, it’s about compliance with a reasonable employer policy.”

Ultimately, Keith believes that the vaccine’s efficacy in protecting employees from hospitalization and death due to the spread of COVID-19 makes a vaccinated workforce an essential facet of safe occupational environments moving forward.

“Is there the odd side effect? Yes. Should you get medical assessment if you’re in a higher risk group? Absolutely,” said Keith.“But if you take the vaccine, you’re guaranteed to not get sick to the point of being in the hospital or dying. Does that help to cultivate worker safety? Of course it does.”

Jack Burton is a freelance writer in Toronto.

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10 Comments » for Should employers be encouraging vaccines for employees?
  1. Nick Kossovan says:

    RE: “’Don’t I have a right not to be told what to do with my body?’”

    True. Nobody, even your employer, has a right to tell their employees what medications to take, or what to have injected into their body. The first employer who tries to force this issue will be involved in a lawsuit that’ll get plenty of media attention (not a good look on the employer).

    RE: “… if you don’t comply with the terms of employment, you don’t have a right to a job, either,”

    Shame on Talent Canada publishing such fear-mongering!

    Canadian employment laws exist to combat racism, ageism, bullying, etc. in the workplace. Every Canadian has the right to make a living and to pursue their career without fear of having to do something that goes against their beliefs or values. Canadians have a right not to get vaccinated and employers don’t have a right to tell employees they must get vaccinated, nor should they be coherising their employees to get vaccinates—the equivalent of “verbal bullying.”

  2. No Name says:

    Radical left idealism. All these so called new “policies” be it employment, travel, public events are nothing more than facades for ill attempts at forced vaccinations and will be met with massive lawsuits. Please do be a realist and remember we “are not all in this together”.

  3. Frikkie says:

    Of course the employer has the right to require full vaccination.

    There are rights (right to a safe workplace), and responsibilities (how to provide that safe workplace).

    Since when does the freedom of individual choice supersede the general good?

  4. Jim S says:

    I will never coerce any of my employees to take any vaccine or medication – especially using “subtle” threats against their employment. Shame on this article.

    Herd immunity is created from exposure to the virus – not vaccination %’s. Vaccinations are to protect people that are concerned about exposure. How MSM and Talent Canada have decided to become doctors and pro-forced-vaccination without any medical knowledge of what they are talking about is shocking and alarming.

    “But if you take the vaccine, you’re guaranteed to not get sick to the point of being in the hospital or dying. Does that help to cultivate worker safety? Of course it does.”

    Does that mean I should start going to chemotherapy sessions to get a “step ahead” on cancer? Insanity. Stay out of people’s personal lives – you are not qualified to give any level of advice.

  5. Brian Nordeman says:

    Never! Governments and private businesses cannot impose mandatory vaccinations. This would be unconstitutional and/or illegal and unenforceable. Especially since this “vaccine” is not approved by the FDA and is still in the experimental trial stage.
    I think Keith better do his homework when he say’s “But if you take the vaccine, you’re guaranteed to not get sick to the point of being in the hospital or dying.” As of May 28, 2021 the CDC reported 4,406 deaths and 262,521 injuries due to the experimental Covid shots. This information is tracked in VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System). More deaths in 6 months than the total number of deaths reported to VAERS following vaccination in the past 23 years! According to the European Database of Adverse Drug Reactions for the Covid-19 shots the death toll is 13,867 and 1,354,336 injuries…as of June 5.
    As an employer I would never ask this of my employees. It’s up to them if they want to take a chance and be part of this experiment. I see a lot of lawsuits coming down the pipe.

  6. Shawn Jaspers says:

    Two words: “Nuremberg code”. Don’t know it, look it up.

  7. L says:

    You can take your mask off at the end of the work day. You can’t take your vaccine off. Employees should have full rights about what goes permanently into their bodies without threat of employment repercussions. Personal choice isn’t necessarily “ideological or political reasons” and it shouldn’t matter even if it is. No means no, end of story. Talent Canada is showing some serious lack of talent in their thoughts on HR policy.

  8. Bill Wolske says:

    Employers who require mandatory vaccination for employees must guarantee the safety of any programs or procedures knowing that the manufacturers, administrators (including physicians), and program directors (including governments and health organizations) legally bear no responsibility.

    The Employer must understand that they bear full responsibility and liability related to any unsafe or adverse outcome of their actions and recommendations.

    Employers should ask their insurance providers for coverage in case their actions are deemed to be libelous.
    It’s the low fruit that is easiest to pick.

    Poor journalistic research to state “With COVID-19 cases entering a long-overdue downward trend — driven in large part by wider vaccine distribution…” when there is no proof that this is the case. Perhaps missing a preamble of “In this journalist’s professional opinion …”

    Poor judgement by Talent Canada on publishing what amounts to be fear tactics expressed by Mr. Keith whether intentional or through ignorance.

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