Lack of clear guidance on vaccine policies, says safety expert

The biggest hurdle for employers remains staff who refuse to get vaccinated, says Alex Entz

Lack of clear guidance on vaccine policies, says safety expert

Employers' dilemma over vaccine policies intensified last week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced mandatory vaccinations for federal employees. However, one safety expert told COS there remains a lack of clear guidance around implentation and the contentious issue of whether this violates employee rights.

“The main issue here would be unvaccinated employees, it doesn’t really affect the vaccinated ones,” says Alex Entz, safety consultant, Kasa Consulting. “Another thing that is an issue is that there is not a lot of clear guidance on how to do this because this is such a new situation."

She highlights that it is still unclear as to whether implementing a vaccination policy or mandate is violating employee rights. The conflict arises from wanting to protect individual worker rights while also providing a work environment that is healthy and safe.

While some employees may think it’s an infringement of their rights, other workers who perhaps have a medical reason for not getting the vaccine (such as being immunocompromised), need to know that when they come to work, their co-workers are not going to infect them.

“For those workers who are medically unable to be vaccinated, some issues would include trying to find accommodations that are suitable for a long time [such as] remote work,” says Entz.

With Trudeau announcing federally-regulated vaccine mandates – and with provinces such as B.C. also announcing provincial mandates – we may be seeing a shift in the labour market as penalties for not getting vaccinated will be severe. “We’re going to see a wave of terminations, or unpaid leaves, and people not working," Entz adds.

And despite the complications, there are definite advantages to implementing a vaccine mandate: "It’s making sure that everybody coming to work, in the physical facility, is hopefully COVID-free, therefore creating a healthier and safer work environment for employees."

Entz also believes there are specific locations where vaccine mandates make a lot of sense. For example, at oil & gas camps (as well as other mining camps such as gold) which are often in remote parts of Canada where access to hospitals or healthcare isn’t easy. In addition, hospitals in these remote areas would not have the capacity to handle a large-scale COVID outbreak at one such site.

While many employees have been keen to get vaccinated, some remain reticent. So how can employers engage with employees who are hesitant – or even refusing – to receive the vaccine?

“I think [that] open dialogue is the key thing,” says Entz. “Ask questions, give open honest answers." She added that vaccine mandates are often put in place from management without them having considered staff. "Top-level management or the executive suite haven’t taken time to consider the thoughts of the workers.”

She says that employers should communicate with those employees about their expectations and options, and collaborate to “develop the policy in a way that works for the company and the workers. You’ll get more adherence to a procedures when it’s in place if workers have had some ownership in the development of that procedure or policy,” says Entz.

“The important thing is if you’re going to implement the vaccine mandate, give it time."