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Unvaccinated employees could face masks, segregation upon return to office: experts

As workplaces begin to reopen, employers are grappling with how to keep all workers safe — including those who are unvaccinated. (Marina Andrejchenko/Adobe Stock)
By Brett Bundale

Unvaccinated workers returning to the office could be required to continue wearing masks, steer clear of common areas and face a staggered workday — or may even be asked to stay home, experts say.

As workplaces begin to reopen, employers are grappling with how to keep all workers safe — including those who are unvaccinated.

It’s a situation that risks stigmatizing vaccine holdouts and potentially triggering workplace anxiety for some, according to human resources experts.

Some employers have created incentives to encourage workers to get immunized against COVID-19, such as paid time off for inoculations and prizes like gift cards and company swag after a shot.


Others are considering policies that make vaccination a necessary condition of employment that could see workers who choose not to be vaccinated for personal reasons out of work.

“We’ve had some clients that work in an office setting that want to propose a mandatory vaccine policy in their workplace,” said Olivia Cicchini, an employment law specialist with Peninsula Canada, a Toronto-based human resources and health and safety consulting firm.

“If you can prove that you need that requirement, like if your workers are seeing clients or you don’t have enough room for physical distancing, then you might be able to justify it.”

Preventing the stigmatization of unvaccinated workers

However, people who cannot be immunized for medical or religious reasons protected under human rights legislation as well as most unionized workers would be exempt from a mandatory vaccine requirement, she said.

“If your workplace is in Canada and it’s not unionized, employers can terminate employees for any reason at any time as long as that reason is not discriminatory,” Cicchini said.

“If an employee chooses not to get vaccinated just because of personal choice, the employer could choose to terminate them on a without cause basis and provide them with their termination pay.”

However, rules that single out employees who have opted out of vaccines — such as mandatory masks, a staggered workday or the segregation of unvaccinated workers to certain floors or areas of the office — raise concerns around privacy and stigmatization, experts say.

“Their vaccine status becomes very apparent to everyone in the office,” said David Zweig, associate professor of organizational behaviour and human resources management at the University of Toronto.

“It becomes a bit of a privacy issue because suddenly, everyone knows that you did not get vaccinated.”

Handling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the workplace

Employers should first develop incentives to encourage vaccine-hesitant employees to get the jab, he said.

For example, Loblaw Companies Ltd. provides workers with up to three hours of paid time off for a vaccination, while Maple Leaf Foods has held multiple on-site vaccine clinics for its workers.

Still, while reducing the barriers to getting a vaccine and providing incentives are helpful, an employer’s top priority remains the collective safety of all employees, Zweig said.

“It means that if you’re someone who’s unvaccinated, you’ll probably have to wear (personal protective equipment) when you go back into the office,” Zweig said. “That’s a reasonable expectation to protect the safety of everyone else who is vaccinated.”

He added: “The key here is for employers to do whatever is necessary to ensure that people are safe and feel safe and mitigate some of these anxieties surrounding the return to work.”

If unvaccinated workers are uncomfortable being singled out in the office, Zweig said there may be options to reasonably accommodate them through measures like a segregated workspace, staggered workday, different common areas or continued work from home.

Yet there could be career repercussions for workers who choose to continue working from home to avoid being vaccinated, he said.

“It’s probably guaranteed to have an impact on your career progression,” Zweig said. “If you’re working from home, but your team is all back in the office, you’re out of the loop.”

Ultimately, if someone is choosing not to be vaccinated for personal reasons “they have a choice to make,” he said.

“They have to deal with the consequences of their actions,” Zweig said. “They’ll have to wear PPE when they’re at work and if someone unvaccinated is uncomfortable with that, then they have a choice to make.”

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6 Comments » for Unvaccinated employees could face masks, segregation upon return to office: experts
  1. Brian N says:

    Have we all lost our minds?! So basically we are being told to take an unapproved ‘vaccine’ that has killed and/or injured more people in the past 6 months than all other vaccines in the past 30 years, to protect ourselves (and those around us) from a virus that you have a 99.7% chance of recovering from!
    Then we are told to wear an unapproved mask that the virus can easily pass through (it’s like putting up a chain link fence to keep out mosquitoes).
    Since when are the unvaccinated a threat to the vaccinated? If you’re vaccinated you should be protected, otherwise what was the point of getting the shot?
    It’s time for all of us to start pushing back on these unreasonable expectations!

    • Dorothy says:

      Thanks for your excellent comment! I’d also like to add that those who already got the virus have natural antibodies as well – does that not mean anything? I know someone who was tested for the antibodies and still has them over 5 months after getting the virus, when she was told by her Doctor that there was no way that she would still have any! Why are we not hearing more about our bodies natural ability to fight viruses?

  2. Dale Allen says:

    The COVID insanity continues now the un-vaccinated may be required to ware masks to protect the vaccinated. Is not the point of vaccination to be safe from the virus and if this is not true then why bother with vaccinations at all ? Big brother seems to be confused about the whole situation while big PharmaCare make’s billions off taxpayers for a vaccine the does not protect you from the virus. INSANITY

  3. L says:

    Employees can also QUIT if companies want to create ridiculous and unlawful policies. Oh, they can also sue as well.

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