With coronavirus vaccinations playing a key role in shaping the post-coronavirus pandemic workplace, employers can help employees overcome vaccine hesitancy through a variety of measures, says Daniel Michaluk, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.
“Most strategies are communication-based, such as encouragement through talking about the benefits of vaccination.”
Purolator Inc. is among the companies taking this approach. Anna Manocchio, senior director of total rewards and human resources technology at the courier company, says the company is making vaccine education and awareness a key priority and hosting vaccine clinics for employees and their families. “It’s important that we promote and educate our employees on vaccinations. There’s so much misinformation they’re getting externally and our chief medical director can really help dispel some of those myths.”
While Walmart in the U.S. is requiring all workers at its Arkansas headquarters as well as its managers who travel within America to be vaccinated by Oct. 4, the policy doesn’t extend to Canadian employees, said Felicia Fefer, a spokesperson for Walmart Canada Corp., in an emailed statement to Benefits Canada.
In Canada, the retailer is providing employees with extensive educational resources, including vaccine frequently asked questions, links to the Government of Canada’s coronavirus vaccine page and an ongoing video series with the company’s chief medical advisor, she said.
In addition, Walmart employees can schedule a vaccination appointment during work hours with up to two hours of paid time off or the applicable provincially-mandated paid time-off requirements. The company also offers up to three paid days off per vaccine dose in the event of adverse reactions.
Michaluk says such approaches aren’t particularly risky from a legal perspective. “If [the employer is] just providing advice, that’s easy to do. Paid time off isn’t risky either.”
However, he says employers that move to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for employees need to consider vaccine hesitancy if they choose to implement such measures.
“You need to consider your overall justification — why are you doing this and why does it need to be done? Unless you can answer those two questions, you’re going to have difficulty from an employee relations perspective, from a labour management perspective and from a legal perspective if there’s a right that applies. . . . If you recognize that it’s a form of imposition, you’re going to be better able to answer any challenges, whether it’s from upset employees who need to be talked out of walking out the door or whether you’ll be prepared for a legal challenge.”
Among the employers who recently announced vaccine mandates in the U.S. are Microsoft Corp., which will require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and visitors to its U.S. offices starting in September. And Tyson Foods Inc., which is mandating vaccines for all of its U.S. employees, became one of the first major employers of frontline workers to do so. Meanwhile, starting this week, Amazon.com Inc. will be requiring all of its 900,000 U.S. warehouse workers to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. So far, Seattle-based Amazon hasn’t required its employees to be vaccinated.
In addition, the state governments of California, Illinois and New York have enacted vaccine mandates for state employees and all U.S. federal workers are required to be vaccinated or be subject to masking and social distancing requirements.
On this side of the border, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week he’s considering making coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for some federally regulated workplaces in a bid to boost Canada’s vaccination levels. He’s asked the country’s top bureaucrat to look at whether any federal workers should be required to get vaccinated.
Almost 82 per cent of eligible Canadians at least 12 years old have their first dose and 69 per cent have both doses. It’s among the best vaccination rates in the world, but it still means almost six million eligible Canadians have no protection, on top of the 4.8 million children who haven’t yet been approved for the vaccine.