When the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic started to intensify in Canada, Toronto-based tech company Staffy decided it was time to implement a vaccination mandate.
The company, which provides an on-demand workforce platform for the health-care and hospitality sector, made it mandatory for their 20 corporate staff to be vaccinated. They also made vaccinations mandatory for their roughly 10,000 external workers, who fill shift requests for health-care, hospitality and general labour gigs.
“Now that vaccines are readily available, we thought it was time to make that declaration so that we could further continue to ensure the safety of our workers and clients and their patients,” says Peter Faist, Staffy’s founder and chief executive officer, who adds that the only exceptions to their vaccine policy are for religious or medical reasons. “It wasn’t really a debate for us, we just think it’s best practice.”
Staffy is among a growing number of small- and medium-sized enterprises that are gaining the confidence to implement vaccine mandates, as more government and corporate workplaces move to make coronavirus vaccination a work requirement.
A survey by KPMG earlier this month of more than 500 SMEs found 84 per cent of respondents said they support vaccine passports to perform certain jobs or enter certain places. And 90 per cent said they feel they’re well-prepared and organized in bringing employees back to the workplace safely. Additionally, 62 per cent said they were either implementing or planned to implement a vaccine mandate.
“SMEs are not necessarily waiting until there’s legislation and there may never be legislation for mandatory proof of vaccination,” says Norm Keith, a partner with KPMG Law LLP who advises businesses on vaccine mandates. “They’re realizing that as a practical matter, they want to get back to business, they want employees in their retail or office space, but they also want to keep them safe.”
He noted the task of implementing a vaccine mandate is harder for an SME than for a larger corporation. That’s because smaller businesses have fewer resources and often don’t have the capacity to mandate vaccines in a way that creates alternate pathways for unvaccinated workers through provisions like remote working or regular coronavirus testing.
Experts say those types of exceptions for people who choose not to get the vaccine for personal reasons are key to avoiding lawsuits. However, Keith says some of his clients, such as construction companies, have moved forward with strict vaccination policies that only allow exceptions for people with medical exemptions or human rights arguments.
He says these companies choose to mandate vaccinations because they also risk facing lawsuits if their work environment isn’t adequately working to prevent a coronavirus outbreak. “There’s no legal right that an employee has to force an employer to employ them (if) they refuse to get vaccinated. An employee has a legal obligation not to put other employees at risk — that’s health and safety law. So having a mandatory proof of vaccine policy where workers are working in close proximity or a congregate work setting is a reasonable and defensible position for an employer to take legally.”