But for some companies, there’s a catch: you may need to get vaccinated before you return to work.
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It’s politics that may soon await those who work for Google – including, potentially, Canadians – as CEO Sundar Pichai told employees in a recent email.
“First of all, anyone coming to work on our campuses will need to be vaccinated,” he wrote.
“We are rolling out this policy in the United States in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the months to come. “
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Navigate immunization status and workplace safety
It’s not just Google. Facebook and Netflix have also just announced their intention to require vaccines for their employees on site in the United States. Development asked Canadians: Could our companies be next?
The issue of mandatory vaccines for employees is a difficult area for companies, according to experts. Whether or not your boss asks you to get the shot, the business is likely to face tough legal and ethical issues in the weeks and months to come.
In an effort to clarify the matter, Global News contacted 13 major Canadian companies to see if they also intended to implement mandatory vaccination policies in the future. Here is what we learned.
Among the companies contacted by Global News, none of those that responded expressed plans to make vaccination mandatory for employees returning to the office anytime soon.
In the United States, Facebook requires that its employees be vaccinated before entering the campus where they work. But in an emailed statement to Global News, Facebook Canada said it does not have an ad for its Canadian offices – at least not yet.
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Major Canadian banks sang a similar tune in comments they sent to Global News. CIBC and RBC, two major employers in Canada, said they do not require employees to be vaccinated at this time. However, both companies said they are encouraging their staff to get vaccinated.
CIBC is offering staff paid time off to get vaccinated, a spokesperson said.
The RBC spokesperson, meanwhile, said the company “encourages vaccinations where possible, although we do not currently require employees to be vaccinated.”
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At BMO, the company referred to Global News to a statement by CEO, Darryl White, made on LinkedIn in February, which said there was “no plan” to force vaccinations on employees, but that they are “strongly” encouraged to do so.
Amazon did not address vaccines at all in the response they sent to Global News, instead relying on advice from local governments in Canada and reaffirming its decision to keep employees at home whenever possible. .
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For lawyers who work in the world of employment law, this wait-and-see approach comes as no surprise, especially since the government has not mandated vaccines in most of its regulated workplaces.
Although Ontario has taken steps to make long-term care home vaccinations mandatory, government officials and other health care workers are not yet subject to any rules on COVID-19 vaccines.
“If the government is unwilling to take this step, private companies may be less inclined as they will feel more likely to risk some sort of lawsuit or legal challenge,” said Hermie Abraham, a lawyer. of work and the owner of Advocation Professional Corporation.
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“So I think it’s gonna be a wait and see. “
Companies deliberating on whether or not to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 probably have one key consideration in mind: whether they could end up being sued.
It’s not a question with a clear answer, according to several labor attorneys.
“With all the legal answers, it always depends,” Abraham said.
“For example, if this were the type of workplace where, say, social distancing cannot be achieved or there is a high risk of transmission between workers… then under those circumstances I can see the employers be able to have a mandatory policy and it is maintained legally.
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But if an office can safely distance or mask, or allow employees to continue working from home, it could be more difficult to make a legal case for mandatory vaccination, she added.
And things could get complicated if an office fires an employee for refusing to be vaccinated, according to labor lawyer Jon Pinkus, partner of Samfiru Tumarkin LLP.
“I think employers should assume that for the most part they won’t be able to require vaccines as a condition of employment. And if they introduce a vaccine requirement, an employee refuses, so if they decide to fire that employee, they’re going to owe that employee’s severance pay, ”Pinkus explained.
“And in some circumstances, they can also have a human rights violation on their hands. “
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Requiring employees to provide proof of vaccination is also a source of some legal difficulties.
“Employers can ask screening questions to be able to determine if someone has been in close contact with someone who has COVID, if the employee has specific types of symptoms related to the virus,” Abraham said.
“It’s not so much what an employer can and cannot ask for, but the reasonableness of their request where the law comes into play.”
In the event that an employer requires vaccination, they must ensure that they respect the privacy of their employees when requesting proof.
“You want to do it on a confidential basis, so you don’t want to inform their colleagues or other people or members of the public about their immunization status,” Pinkus said.
“You want to make sure that you don’t keep the information somewhere unnecessarily. “
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If news of people’s immunization status becomes known in the office, legal issues related to the harassment could also arise, lawyers warned.
“Under common law, workplaces and employers have a duty to treat their employees with dignity, to have a safe and fair workplace,” said Abraham.
She said Canadians can see situations where an environment becomes toxic, whether it’s because of an outspoken anti-vaccine employee or vice versa.
“This is where employers need to have good respectful workplace policies, and these are just respectful differences across the board,” Abraham said.
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An employee’s right to a safe workplace can further confuse the problem. While employers can continue to enforce masks and distancing, an employee who feels insecure due to a lack of vaccine rules can complain to the Department of Labor, according to Pinkus.
“But I suspect that an employee is simply complaining that he doesn’t know whether his colleagues are vaccinated or not, that won’t be enough for this to constitute a true security breach,” he said.
“So it’s a balancing act and it’s a tough balancing act for employers. “
Businesses debating vaccine policies aren’t just constrained by law. There are also ethical considerations that might come into play when deciding whether or not to adopt their own vaccine rules.
The first consideration, according to bioethicist Kerry Bowman, is whether everyone has had the chance to get the vaccine. After that, he said, employers will have to determine whether the safety concerns in question justify limiting certain employee freedoms.
“The resulting ethical concerns are freedom of choice, freedom of movement. There is an element of oversight. And then the strong arguments of vulnerable people (who) may well have less access to vaccination certificates in general, ”he said.
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But while people are entitled to freedom of choice and movement, there are also ethical considerations for people who want their colleagues to be vaccinated so that they can work in a safe environment.
“If someone chooses not to get the vaccine and is absolutely determined to return to the workplace, they may be creating a potential risk to other people,” Bowman said.
“Ethics is often a balancing act.«
–With files from Jackson Proskow of Global News