As the pandemic continues, the questions around employers requiring vaccination become more and more important. The majority of Canadians have opted to get the COVID-19 vaccine, with nearly 65% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated by the end of July, but some people have chosen to refrain, for various reasons. However, employers are increasingly beginning to mandate vaccines for staff who plan to work at the workplace, in both the private and public sector. The Canadian government has recently decreed that federal workers in the public sector must get vaccinated. The government introduced this new policy because it believes that vaccinations are the best line of defence against COVID-19.

Who is Affected by the Government’s New Policy?

All federal public employees of the Government of Canada are affected. That means about 300,000 public servants will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The federal government will also require employees in the federally regulated air, rail, and marine transportation sectors to be vaccinated. Although not employees of the federal government, certain travellers will require proof of vaccination as well. This will include all commercial air travellers, passengers on interprovincial trains, and passengers on large marine vessels with overnight accommodations, such as cruise ships.

In addition to the individuals mentioned above, Canadian Armed Forces members, as part of the federal public service force, are also included in the mandate.

Accommodations for Employees Ineligible for Vaccination

Of course, there is a very small percentage of the population who is not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons. These are usually people with specific pre-existing illnesses or people who have allergies to some of the ingredients in the vaccine. In these situations, employers will likely be required to find a mutually agreeable accommodation. The employer will have to determine accommodation or alternative measures in each situation, but they may include mandatory testing prior to entering the workplace or continuing existing remote working arrangements where possible. The types of accommodations required will be dependent on the requirements of each individual’s role.

When Does This New Policy Come Into Effect?

The federal government announced its intention to have the requirement in place as early as the end of September 2021. For the federally regulated transportation sector, the mandate should be going into effect no later than the end of October 2021.

Are There Other Public Sector Employers Who May Require Vaccinations?

Yes. Metrolinx, which is a Crown agency of the government of Ontario, has announced vaccination requirements for its employees. Metrolinx has stated that about 81 percent of its employees are already fully vaccinated (according to an internal survey). However, by requiring vaccination, the agency hopes to be even more effective in reducing the chances of spread and infection. There is no date yet given by when this new Metrolinx policy will come into effect.

The Toronto Transit Commission, too, is implementing a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirement. However, the TTC is moving even faster than Metrolinx. The TTC vaccine requirement will be in effect on September 13, 2021. The vaccine will be mandatory for all TTC employees, including employees, students and contractors. The TTC stated that it put this new policy in place in response to the increase in evidence around the transmissibility of the Delta variant.

The City of Toronto, too, has announced that vaccinations will be mandatory for all City of Toronto employees. Mayor John Tory announced recently that all city staff will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 30, 2021. Furthermore, all city employees will have to provide proof of vaccination status by September 13, 2021. If an employee has not been vaccinated by September 13, 2021, they will have to provide proof of having received the first dose by September 30, 2021.

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) has also just announced that its officers and civilian staff members are required to get vaccinated. Furthermore, employees of the TPS will have to disclose their vaccination status by September 13, 2021. The Toronto Police Association has already come out in opposition to both mandatory vaccination and mandatory disclosure of vaccine status.

Are we in the 4th Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada is calling this current period, the “fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada”. She has also identified that, as of August 20, 2021, the latest national 7-day average of 2,216 new cases reported daily (Aug 13-19) was an increase of 38 percent over the previous week. The key features of the number of infections increasing were identified as:

  • Nationally, the highly contagious Delta Variant of Concern (VOC), accounts for the majority of recently reported cases, is associated with increased severity, and may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines;
  • Most reported cases, hospitalizations and deaths are occurring among unvaccinated people; and
  • Virus spread in areas with low vaccination coverage presents an ongoing risk for emergence of and replacement by new VOCs, including a risk of VOCs with the ability to evade vaccine protection.

Contact Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in for Questions Pertaining to Vaccination Requirements During the COVID-19 pandemic

Given that we are seeing a rise in the number of COVID-19 infections, it is possible that more employers, both public and private, will require employees to be vaccinated. It is prudent for both employers and employees to get advice regarding such policies.

For advice on mandatory workplace vaccination programs, COVID-19 workplace policies, employer liability, employee rights and other employment or labour law matters, contact the offices of Toronto employment lawyers Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP. We regularly advise workplace parties on a wide range of legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 416-364-9599 to schedule a consultation.