As we cautiously emerge from the pandemic and its related restrictions, some employers are wondering how workplace vaccination policies and terminations based on vaccination status have impacted the job market.
The Great Resignation – a phenomenon that was triggered (or at least greatly influenced) by the pandemic saw many workers in the United States resign or take early retirement. In fact, in November 2021 alone, a record-breaking 4.5 million U.S. workers quit their jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.[i]
Fortunately, here in Canada we have not seen the same mass exodus from the labour market. That being said, however, a survey conducted by the Bank of Canada in January 2022, found that 19.3% of respondents were planning to leave their current employer within the next 12 months.[ii]
And while the current labour shortage can be attributed to a whole host of reasons, the firing of unvaccinated workers has played a considerable role. Over the course of the pandemic many employers implemented mandatory vaccine policies and those who did not comply (except on the grounds of a human rights exemption) were surprisingly terminated. As an example, in early January of this year, the City of Toronto let go 461 unvaccinated employees.[iii] Similar examples can be found with other employers in nearly every sector.
Is requiring employees to be vaccinated justified?
At the height of the pandemic when the province was seeing its highest numbers of hospitalizations and death, a few legal experts argued that vaccination policies in workplaces were justified because the employer’s duty to maintain a safe workplace outweighed the employees’ right to privacy about their vaccination status.
But as hospitalizations and deaths plummet with more mild variants like Omicron, the justification for such policies may be waning as well. Last month, Ontario’s top medical doctor, Kieran Moore said that with the dropping of the vaccine passport system, employers also needed to re-evaluate their workplace policies. Most employment lawyers agree that employers’ right to have employees reveal vaccination status becomes less critical as health officials indicate unvaccinated people can return to work and unvaccinated employees laid off in late fall 2021 will resume their positions.
Hiring and rehiring unvaccinated workers
As more employer’s face worker shortages – and as the need for vaccination against COVID-19 becomes seemingly less critical – some employers are reversing their vaccine policies and even rehiring those they terminated just months ago. There were even reports that the Province of Ontario had considered forcing hospitals to rehire unvaccinated workers to help make up for the shortages.[iv]
For now however, it seems that the decision on hiring unvaccinated workers is still up to the employer. If hospitalizations and death rates from the virus continue trending downward and vaccination efficacy is further eroded, workplace vaccination policies could become more vulnerable to legal challenges and a thing of the past.
Contact Minken Employment Lawyers today
Do you have questions about your workplace vaccination policy? If so, our employment lawyers are here to help. Call us today at 905-477-7011 to schedule a consultation or visit our site for more information.
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Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
[i] Where the Great Resignation might be headed in Canada, and what employers should do about it – The Globe and Mail
[ii] Where the Great Resignation might be headed in Canada, and what employers should do about it – The Globe and Mail
[iii] CHAUDHRI: Fired unvaccinated employees to cause worker shortage | Toronto Sun
[iv] Ontario considered forcing hospitals to re-hire unvaccinated staff as surging case numbers strain health-care providers | Ottawa Citizen
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