COVID-19 Vaccination Policies for Employers in the City of Toronto yay or nay?

On August 20, 2021, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health issued a statement strongly recommending that employers in the City of Toronto institute a COVID-19 workplace vaccination policy ("WVP") to protect employees and the public from COVID-19.

A few days later, on August 24, 2021, the Ontario provincial government passed an amendment to O. Reg. 364/20: Rules for Areas at Step 3 and at the Roadmap Exit Step under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020. The amendment specifies as follows:

"(2.1) The person responsible for a business or organization that is open shall operate the business or organization in compliance with any advice, recommendations and instructions issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, or by a medical officer of health after consultation with the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health,

(a) requiring the business or organization to establish, implement and ensure compliance with a COVID-19 vaccination policy; or

(b) setting out the precautions and procedures that the business or organization must include in its COVID-19 vaccination policy."

As a result of this amendment, there are grounds to say that employers situated in the City of Toronto must establish a WVP in accordance with Toronto's Medical Officer of Health's recommendation. However, it is not entirely clear that it is truly mandatory for all Toronto based employers to adopt a WVP. This is because Toronto's Medical Officer of Health's statement is currently a recommendation rather than a requirement. At this point in time, it remains to be seen whether this recommendation will be interpreted as obliging Toronto employers to establish, implement and ensure compliance with a WVP.

For employers establishing a WVP, Toronto Public Health has published a workplace toolkit which outlines the key components of a WVP as follows:

  1. "Scope Explain the purpose of the policy, the risk of COVID-19 transmission, who the policy applies to and what personal information will be collected.
  2. Actions Required State specific actions workers must take, including proof of vaccination status or medical exemption, and completing a vaccination education course if they choose not to get vaccinated.
  3. Deadlines Specify when the action(s) must be taken by workers covered under the policy.
  4. Supports available Share how you will support staff to get vaccinated, including paid time off, transportation to and from clinics, on-site vaccination clinics or other accommodations.
  5. Provisions for unvaccinated workers List options for workers who do not get vaccinated during a COVID-19 outbreak, including redeployment or reassignment, alternate work arrangements or remote work.
  6. Consequences of not complying - Outline the potential consequences for workers who do not comply with the policy.
  7. Privacy considerations State how you will protect workers' vaccination information in accordance with applicable privacy legislation.
  8. Staff contact Provide contact details for the person staff should contact if they have questions about the policy or what is required of them."

Toronto Public Health has also published further guidance and a sample mandatory vaccination policy here. For more information on developing a WVP, please also refer to our previous blog posts Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policies update as of August 2021 and The Ongoing Sage on COVID-19 Vaccination Policies


Takeaways:

Mandatory workplace vaccination is a fast-moving topic at the moment. With new directives and orders being announced on a regular basis, employers and employees province-wide are encouraged to keep a close watch for new developments.

Specifically, employers operating in the City of Toronto should carefully consider implementing a WVP that encourages employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and accords with applicable laws, municipal recommendations, and guidelines. Lee Workplace Law would be happy to assist with establishing and drafting a suitable WVP.