Termination turmoil as workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandates take effect

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Legal experts say Canada is facing a potential wave of terminations linked to mandatory workplace vaccine policies as a growing number of employers require workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – or lose their jobs risk of.

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Governments, institutions and companies have spent months fulfilling vaccine mandates to curb an unrelenting pandemic driven by the variant.

As employers approach deadlines for a full immunization approach, unvaccinated workers could soon be placed on unpaid leave or terminated altogether, lawyers say.

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“Thousands of people across Canada have contacted us with ultimatums that they need to be vaccinated by a certain date or risk losing their jobs,” said Lior Samfiru, partner employment attorney at Samfiru Tumarchin LLP. , said in an interview.

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“We have seen the biggest wave of termination since the pandemic began,” he said, noting that his firm has been approached by workers in multiple industries, including health care, education, banks, construction and restaurants. . .

“It will be important.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled Canada’s new mandatory vaccine policy on Wednesday. This requires that core public service, air travel and rail workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of October.

The federal vaccine mandate mirrors provincial policies, such as those in Nova Scotia where all schools and health care workers are required to have two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of November.

Private companies have also developed corporate vaccine mandates, including deadlines for full immunization for employees.

The situation has left legal experts grappling with the tension between protecting the rights of individual workers and making sure they meet their health and safety obligations to employees, customers and the public.

There is also the question of whether reasonable accommodations or exemptions should be available to workers and whether unvaccinated workers who are eventually terminated are compensated.

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“There is an overriding obligation on the employer to make sure the workplace is safe,” said Ron Pizzo, a labor and employment attorney with Pink Larkin in Halifax.

“Covid is a serious disease with the potential to kill, the risk of harm is very high,” he said. “Employers are implementing those policies for legitimate reasons because they have a duty to keep their workplace safe.”

Pizzo said his firm is getting a lot of calls from people who don’t want to be vaccinated and employers wanting to fight vaccination requirements.

Still, he said he was not expecting mass resignations that would leave companies without enough workers given the relatively high vaccination rates among the general population. A little over 80 percent of all Canadians 12 years of age and older have been fully vaccinated.

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Pizzo said several law firms are introducing mandatory vaccination policies for face-to-face meetings in the office.

Wayne McKay, professor emeritus at the Dalhousie Schulich School of Law, said employers must balance workers’ individual rights, such as maintaining a safe work environment, by providing reasonable accommodations.

But he said a recent review of matters involving the balance between individual rights and public health favors the latter.

“I have gone through a lot of cases and tribunals and the great majority are saying that individual rights are important and you should do everything possible to respect them, in times of a pandemic, the right will be given wide scope. ,” McKay said. “Most of the restrictions that governments are putting in place have been found appropriate given the threat of COVID-19.”

While these cases were not specifically related to the vaccine mandate, he said the same logic was likely to apply.

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