Sun Life Financial Inc. has told its 12,000 Canadian employees that they need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to return to their offices in three major Canadian cities, becoming one of the first federally regulated financial institutions to impose vaccination on its staff.
Canada’s second-largest insurer announced the vaccination requirement in an internal memo on Tuesday afternoon, saying employees who have volunteered for a return-to-work pilot at offices in Toronto, Montreal and Waterloo, Ont. , “Must certify that they have received all the recommended doses. of the COVID-19 vaccine approved at least 14 days before the first entry into the office. “
Sun Life’s return-to-work policy was planned in several phases, the most recent phase 2, starting on or around September 20, at a capacity of 25% for each of the three offices, according to the internal score obtained. by The Globe and Mail. The insurer began work on the pilot project ahead of the federal government’s announcement last week that COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory across the federal public service starting next month to help increase the number of fully immunized Canadians.
A Sun Life spokesperson told The Globe that the company had made “no decisions about vaccinations beyond pilots” but that it “would closely monitor the number of cases, vaccination rates and the delta variant ”.
Last month, Sun Life was one of the first Canadian companies to commit to a flexible return-to-work arrangement whereby employees will not be required to work from the office a minimum or maximum number of days per week.
Only 2 percent of Sun Life employees – those considered “essential workers” – have accessed office buildings (and they currently do not need vaccinations to enter buildings).
The internal memo said that if “essential workers” were unable to “attest” to receiving recommended doses of a vaccine, they should participate in the company’s rapid screening program, which it began. to be piloted in May.
Canada’s largest banks have yet to make a firm decision on whether to require vaccination for employees returning to work. Just a month ago, none of the big banks planned to impose vaccinations as they made plans to start bringing more workers back to their offices.
But senior bankers took note of the federal government’s announcement last Friday that it “expects” federally regulated employers, such as banks and telecommunications companies, to require their employees to be vaccinated for. work on site. The government committed in a press release to work with these employers “to ensure this result”.
Senior officials briefed the chief executives of the country’s major banks ahead of the announcement, stressing that there would be no strict mandate for the banks, according to four sources familiar with the debate.
The Globe and Mail does not identify the sources because they are not authorized to discuss the banks’ communications with the government.
Banks are reluctant to engage in a debate that has become a key issue at the start of the current federal election campaign. But they also face practical obstacles to implementing immunization mandates. In particular, employees who work in financial markets are regulated by the provinces, but often work under the same roof as their federally regulated colleagues.
Any mandate should also be tailored to a range of different regulations and legal considerations in the countries where Canadian banks do business abroad.
Darryl Hiscocks, employment lawyer at Torys LP, said that while the government’s announcement provides direction to some of Canada’s largest federally regulated companies, it does not cover the vast majority of provincially regulated employees or territorial.
At the same time, he said, the federal government has not provided any specific guidance beyond its announcement on how employees who fail or refuse to get vaccinated can be treated by their employers. .
“It is one thing as a government to say that you are going to make vaccination compulsory, which in itself invites Charter or human rights challenges, but it is quite another to say what will be the specific consequences for employees who fail or refuse to vaccinate – and so so far the government seems to have sidestepped this issue, which is understandable.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the article stated that Sun Life’s return-to-work pilot was released after the federal government announced mandatory employee vaccinations. Sun Life was working on the back-to-work pilot before the announcement.
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