FAQ for Employers on Ontario COVID-19 Vaccination Protocols

At HRAI’s September 23rd AGM and the Contractor Town Hall that followed, some members asked questions about protocols for mandating vaccinations in their workplaces and in relation to customers.  In an effort to provide members with the most up-to-date and consistent information, HRAI has prepared a COVID-19 Protocols FAQ for Ontario Employers. This document aims to answer some of the common questions members in Ontario have been asking, mostly relying on information taken directly from the Ontario Government’s COVID-19 guidelines for workplace health and safety.

HRAI is currently investigating the requirements in all provinces and will publish these as they become available next week.

The FAQ responses are presented below but note that these may be subject to change.  HRAI will strive to keep members notified about any regulatory changes or advisories as the happen.

Can I require all of my employees to be vaccinated?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Employment Standards Act do not directly address vaccination or the enforcement of employer vaccination policies for workers. Individual employers may create policies to best address the health and safety of their respective workplace. Employers should seek legal advice before developing or implementing a vaccination policy.  This might include advice on topics such as:

  • Human rights and accessibility
  • Labour and employment law
  • Privacy
  • Health care consent
  • Occupational health and safety

There are many ways employers can encourage and promote the vaccine to their workers. If you are an employer and are considering whether to develop a policy related to vaccination, be clear on the outcomes you intend to achieve.

Can my customers require that technicians serving them be fully vaccinated?

While customers can inquire, an employee’s health information can be kept private, unless they have consented to have it publicly shared. Employers cannot force employees to disclose if they are vaccinated to customers. Employers cannot disclose their employees’ vaccination status unless they have been given consent.

Can a client or general contractor deny access to the work site based on vaccination status?

A general contractor, employer or client may deny access to the work site based on vaccination status if the company’s policy requires that all employees be vaccinated in the workplace.

A client can always choose to deny business to a company that does not meet their consumer requirements (masking, vaccination, proof of vaccination).

If I require all employees to be vaccinated, can I terminate employees who do not get vaccinated?

An employer can terminate an employee ‘with cause’ if they refuse to adhere to a workplace policy requiring vaccination. However, an employee cannot be fired if they have a medical exemption or religious belief exemption that prevents them from being vaccinated, as this would fall under potential discrimination within the human rights code.

An employer may terminate an unvaccinated employee ‘without cause’ if they choose to do so. There are no exemptions or reasons needed, so long as proper severance is paid to the employee.

Can I ask employees for proof of vaccination?

If a company’s workplace policy requires a proof of vaccination, employees can be asked to provide it. If they refuse to provide their proof of vaccination in accordance with a workplace policy, an employer can take actions deemed appropriate (suspension, leave, termination, etc.).

For all types of indoor spaces, are employees required to wear masks?

Employees are required to wear a face covering when working in an area that does not allow at least two meters of physical distancing between individuals while working indoors.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), employers must also take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of workers. To meet this obligation in the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers may need to institute policies mandating masks for staff.

A worker must use or wear the personal protective equipment that an employer requires. The employer must also comply with any relevant regulatory requirements for that personal protective equipment.

Masks are important to reduce the risk in situations where other controls, particularly physical distancing, cannot be consistently maintained. However, masks should not be the only control measure or replace other control measures in your workplace.

Not all people are able to wear masks, for example, because of a health condition. Develop a policy to address these situations before they arise.

Accommodations for someone who cannot wear a mask must not result in reduced protection for workers. Employers may need to implement other control measures to replace the protection that would be provided by the mask.

More information can be found on the on the Ontario Government’s guideline page for the use of masks in the workplace.

For outdoor spaces, are employees required to wear masks?

No. Employees in Ontario are not required to wear a mask.

Although there is a reduced risk of transmission for COVID-19 transmission in outdoor spaces, employers should assess the risks of a workplace and put reasonable precautions in place to maintain the health and safety of workers. The virus is most frequently transmitted when people are in close contact with others who are infected with the virus (either with or without symptoms). We also know that most transmission occurs indoors.

If employees are not able to maintain two metres of physical distancing in outdoor settings, masks may be used as a control measure to protect the health and safety of the workplace. 

General information on vaccines in the workplace

Workplace control measures are actions that employers take to help prevent workers from being exposed to a hazard. Vaccines are a good complement to workplace controls, but cannot replace them. They have different purposes:

  • Workplace controls help prevent workers from being exposed.
  • Vaccines help protect you from getting sick or infected if you are exposed.

Even as more people in Ontario are vaccinated, COVID-19 is still a hazard that may come into the workplace through infected workers or customers.

There are a variety of control measures to help reduce the chance that workers who must be in the workplace may be exposed to COVID-19:

  • Screening helps to keep people who may be infectious out of the workplace
  • Good ventilation and wearing masks can help reduce the amount of virus in an indoor space
  • Maintaining physical distance reduces the chance of being exposed to respiratory droplets of all sizes
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) can help protect the wearer from exposure to the virus and may be required when other control measures cannot be consistently maintained

Requirements for all workplaces under the Occupational Health and Safety Act

OHSA requirements for all employers include:

  • Ensuring workers know about hazards by providing information, instruction and supervision on how to work safely
  • Ensuring supervisors know what is required to protect workers’ health and safety on the job
  • Creating workplace health and safety policies and procedures
  • Ensuring workplace parties follow the law and the workplace health and safety policies and procedures
  • Ensuring workers wear the right protective equipment and are trained on how to use it
  • Taking all precautions reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers from being hurt or getting a work-related illness

For more information, please contact Chelsea Goberdhan, Ontario Government Relations Specialist, cgoberdhan@hria.ca.

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