Can Employers Ask for Proof of Vaccination?

Vaccination rates are steadily rising in Ontario, and many companies are starting to look at bringing employees back into workspaces. The pandemic isn’t entirely over yet, and the province is still battling strong COVID-19 variants. This raises questions about whether or not employers can, and should, ask for proof of vaccination.


Can Employers Make the COVID-19 Vaccine Mandatory?

The answer to this question is complicated. Employers have an obligation to maintain healthy and safe workplaces and take all reasonable measures to do so. Ontario has even outlined COVID-19 health guidelines for businesses to follow.


When safety measures are required, and employees breach them, a “for cause” termination may be justified. However, public health authorities are only highly encouraging people to get vaccinated and have not made it mandatory. Employers should consider taking this approach, strongly encouraging vaccination but not yet demanding it.


New Hires vs. Current Employees

Requiring current employees to get vaccinated before returning to workplaces is more complicated due to existing employment contracts. Requiring it of new hires is more straightforward.


Many companies require pre-employment drug testing and criminal record clearances. Businesses could include COVID-19 vaccination proof as part of this as well. However, this should be made clear in advance.


Certain Industries May Require It

Vaccination might not be necessary for all industries, but certain job sectors may legitimately require mandatory vaccination. Certain front-line positions such as long-term care workers, nurses, doctors, and other hospital and critical care workers are in regular contact with vulnerable persons. In these work areas, requiring vaccination would be more than fair.


Employers Should be Flexible

COVID-19 vaccination rates are rising in Ontario, but there are still long waits for many people. Even those that want to get vaccinated might not have the option right now. There are also those that cannot get the vaccine due to health or religious reasons. Companies looking to make vaccination mandatory should be flexible and understanding when it comes to timelines and exceptions.


Incentives and Accommodations

Some employers are offering incentives to encourage vaccination among their employees, like paid time off inoculation, extra vacation time, or gift cards. This could be a gentle way to push employees that are on the fence about vaccination to do so.


Companies should also consider accommodation for vaccinated employees (or cannot be for valid reasons) that are uncomfortable working near those not vaccinated. Many employees have anxiety about returning to workplaces and being around large groups of people again, especially among those that are not vaccinated. Employers can absolve their fears by requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks while working, allowing those uncomfortable to work from home, and making workstations 6-feet apart.


Final Thoughts

Requiring proof of vaccination is a tricky topic and doesn’t have a clear answer. If you’re an employer considering making vaccination mandatory, our HR experts suggest you contact an employment lawyer to ensure you aren’t breaking any employment or human rights laws beforehand. If you’re legally cleared, start by having a conversation with your workers, give a reasonable timeline, and make sure you clearly communicate the requirement to any new hires ahead of time.


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