“Safety was the reason,” Twitter Canada spokesperson Cam Gordon said in an email. Twitter has approximately 150 employees in Canada, mostly based in Toronto. The social networking service is one of many companies that have introduced a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for employees returning to the workplace.
But other companies are still on the fence as they try to determine their rights by enforcing such a policy.
Friday, the federal government announced it will soon require its federal employees and those working in certain federally regulated industries, such as airlines and railways, to be fully immunized. But private companies that do not fall into this category are left to their own devices to decide whether to impose a vaccination obligation.
“There are companies that are interested in mandatory vaccines,” said labor and employment lawyer Peter Straszynski of Toronto law firm Torkin Manes. “Customers ask if it is legal for them to do this and what are the restrictions on their ability to do so. “
When their offices reopen, Google, Uber, Lyft, and Netflix will each require their serving U.S. employees to be fully immunized. These companies told CBC News that they are exploring the same policy for their workers in Canada.
“We are currently reviewing local regulations globally where all of our sites are located, including Canada,” Google spokeswoman Wendy Manton said in an email.
Google has 2,000 employees with offices in Toronto, Waterloo, Ont. and Montreal.
Is it legal for companies to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19?
In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its guidelines in May to state that, subject to certain limitations, federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from implementing a vaccination requirement.
In Canada, Straszynski says occupational health and safety legislation requires employers to protect their workers from occupational health and safety risks. But he said companies adopting a vaccination policy should welcome workers who cannot get vaccinated for medical or religious reasons.
“My point is that you can force vaccinations, you just have to watch out for the exceptions. And the exceptions are human rights. “
Labor and employment lawyer Hermie Abraham said employers should do their homework before imposing a vaccination policy because not all workplaces may be able to justify such an extreme measure. they face a legal challenge.
“The requirement for the vaccine should relate to a real and substantial threat (…) of an epidemic in the workplace or the need to protect vulnerable people in the workplace,” said Abraham, of Advocation Employment. Law in Toronto.
She said private offices in particular might have difficulty justifying a vaccination requirement if there are other ways for an employer to secure the workplace, such as a mask requirement and physical distancing. .
“Legally, the vaccination requirement would be considered necessary if there was a very limited way for the employer to keep people safe,” Abraham said in a follow-up email.
Unvaccinated employees stay home
Abraham said offices could avoid questioning their vaccination policy by offering options to unvaccinated employees, such as providing regular COVID-19 tests or allowing them to work from home.
Aercoustics Engineering Ltd., which has 50 employees, reopened its Mississauga, Ontario office at the end of July. But employees who choose to work in the office should be fully immunized. Those who do not want to comply are urged to continue working from home.
“You will continue to have your job, but that means you won’t be able to do it in person,” said Steve Titus, president and CEO of the company. “What COVID has shown us is that we can still work [remotely]. »
Titus said he consulted legal experts when drafting the policy and has so far heard no complaints from staff.
“We felt that as a business and private industry, we may have a better chance of protecting our team and our communities if we promote immunization. “
Awaiting government directives
The murky territory that businesses may encounter when imposing COVID-19 vaccinations has prompted some companies to back down from such a policy.
Goodlife Fitness says it encourages its 11,000 employees working in gyms across Canada to get vaccinated. However, the health club chain said it would need government regulation or guidance before requiring employees to be vaccinated.
“This is brand new to us,” said Jane Riddell, President of Goodlife. “The legal aspects of a mandatory vaccination requirement are not clear to us, and that is why we believe the government really needs to step up and take on this leadership role. “
Ottawa stepped in on Friday – but only to force vaccines on federally regulated workers.
Most private businesses fall under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government told a news conference that it was encouraging provinces to raise the issue of vaccine needs with local businesses.
“We have certain jurisdictions over certain industries, and that’s what we’re working on,” said Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra. “We hope other industries will follow our lead and set a similar standard for their employees and their workplaces. “