The Great Debate: Mandatory Vaccination Policies

  • April 21, 2021
  • Natalie Garvin, Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LPP

In the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to be discouraged by how little has changed in a year. The pandemic continues to have significant and devastating effects on individuals and businesses. 

The announcement late last year that two vaccines were approved for use in Canada and the approval of a third one in February was a sigh of relief. However, as vaccines become available to more individuals, employers once again find themselves venturing into unknown territory with little guidance from the Ontario Government. Specifically, many employers are now considering whether they can and should implement mandatory vaccination policies.

As of this writing, the Ontario Government has strongly encouraged everyone to receive the vaccine but has stopped shy of making vaccination mandatory. This leaves employers in the unenviable position of having to make decisions about how, if at all, to broach the issue of vaccination in their individual workplaces without any legislative guidance.

When determining whether or not to implement a mandatory vaccination policy, employers must first understand that they cannot force an individual to receive the vaccine. Instead, a mandatory policy would subject employees who have not received the vaccine to additional workplace requirements and/or restrictions. For example, employees who have not been vaccinated may qualify for or be placed on a leave of absence, be transferred to remote work arrangements, be required to continue wearing personal protective equipment, practice physical distancing even after it is no longer legally required, and/or undergo regular COVID-19 testing.  What specific requirements or restrictions may be appropriate will depend on the type and nature of the workplace in question. 

While mandatory vaccination policies can be devised and implemented in a number of ways, employers should consider a number of associated risk factors and legal obligations before deciding whether a mandatory policy is right for their workplace.