Vaccine Passports and Return to the Office: Our Advice

September 14 2021
Stories

Already implemented in many countries, the vaccine passport will soon become part of our daily lives. As various provinces start to set up vaccination policies, the question of workplace vaccine passports raises many questions about the return to the office, and how to plan it.

As more and more Canadian companies ask their employees to be vaccinated if they wish to return to the office, the issue of workplace vaccination policies is becoming increasingly prominent. This article, written in collaboration with Emily Goupil, Health and Safety Consultant, will provide you advice on how to plan a smooth and safe return to the office.

Quick Overview of the Vaccine Passport

What is the vaccine passport?


The vaccine passport is a valid government document that certifies an individual’s COVID-19 vaccine status. Despite fears that this system might create a split society, a proof of vaccination is already used in many provinces, allowing easier travels abroad as well as access to non-essential services and activities. Essential services are not included in the COVID-19 vaccine passport system.

You can get your QR code with your vaccination certificate, or obtain it directly after receiving a complete vaccination plan. In addition to the PDF document accessible on your phone, specific apps will allow you to use your personal QR code at any time. If you do not have a smartphone, the paper version of your printed QR code will also be accepted.

Where will the vaccine passport be required?


Proof of vaccination will be required for most non-essential activities, such as cinemas and fitness centres, casinos, bars and restaurants.

Outdoor events and festivals with more than 50 people will also be affected, as well as most indoor events and the practice of some team sports.

For a complete list of places where the vaccine passport is mandatory, you should refer to your province’s dedicated information page.

This proof of vaccination will be required for anyone over the age of 12.

Questions About Workplace Vaccination Rules


“The implementation of vaccination passports in many provinces raises many questions and is a major challenge for Canadian companies. Employers must protect their employees’ health and safety in the workplace, but they also have to ensure that they do not infringe on the rights of employees and possible health conditions preventing them from getting vaccinated.”  – Emily Goupil, Health and Safety Consultant

According to a KPMG survey, 62 percent of small and medium-sized employers in Canada are making or plan to make COVID-19 vaccine passports mandatory for employees, and 84 percent think that mandatory vaccinations are the best way to avoid another lockdown.

Many questions therefore arise from the use of vaccination passports in relation to employees’ vaccination statuses.

Can I ask whether a person is vaccinated before I hire them?


Asking whether the applicant is vaccinated before hiring them might be considered discriminatory. Therefore, the vaccination status should not be taken into consideration during the interview.

Will employers be able to require employees to be vaccinated?


As of now, you cannot firmly require all your employees to be vaccinated, except in a ‘justified’ professional sector (health-care workers, for example).

However, you can ask your employees if they have been vaccinated, especially if you are planning to organize a return to the office plan. This will allow you to keep a confidential record of your employees’ vaccination status. In this case, you will need to justify your request by the need to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 within the company. Employees who refuse to disclose their vaccination status will be considered unvaccinated.

Can I ask employees to be fully vaccinated if they want to return to the office?


Employers can request proof of vaccination from their employees to organize their return to the office. This request must be justified by your need to protect vaccinated employees from COVID-19 transmission.

Several Canadian companies (Telus, Shopify Inc, Sun Life, as well as many banks) have also stated that only fully vaccinated employees would be allowed to return to the office

However, caution should be exercised with mandatory vaccine passports: they must correspond to your specific context and remain non-discriminatory.

What about employees who cannot or do not want to be vaccinated?


For employees who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons (pregnancy, intolerance to vaccines, personal health issues, etc.), it is possible to make arrangements, when returning to the office, to apply strict measures of social distancing, of hand washing and of wearing masks at all times. Otherwise, when possible, remote work remains an accommodating solution. 

As for employees who do not want to be vaccinated for personal reasons, it is essential to determine on a case-by-case basis whether their motivations and concerns are legitimate. Again, social distancing, hygiene and wearing masks, as well as maintaining remote work when possible, are effective solutions to protect all your employees.

How do I convince my employees to get vaccinated?


Although employers cannot require their employees to be vaccinated, they can strongly encourage them to do so. In the workplace, collective rights also take precedence over individual rights, and it is important to make employees aware of the importance of protecting their colleagues’ health.

In addition to a campaign to raise awareness, the employer can choose to inform his vaccinated employees that they will no longer have to wear masks in the office, unlike unvaccinated employees. This measure, which is justifiable from a health perspective, could convince reluctant employees to consider the possibility of getting vaccinated.

Can I set up a COVID-19 vaccination policy in my business?


The relevancy of a COVID-19 vaccination policy will vary depending on your specific situation, including consideration of:

  • Your specific work environment: will the employee be in contact with many different people (other employees without possible distancing measures, customer service, inability to wear a mask, etc.);
  • The justifiable risk to the company and employees in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak: the policy must be written with your company’s reality in mind so that it is relevant, understood and accepted by all employees;
  • Vaccination rates in your organization: if a large number of your employees are unvaccinated, it may be more appropriate first to raise awareness in your organization and communicate broadly on why vaccination is essential to protect the company and its staff;
  • Other options available to you depending on your context: do you have the necessary space to implement distancing measures in your office? Can you maintain remote work, or is there an urgent need for your employees to come back to the office? 

The progression of COVID-19 cases in your area: if the number of cases stabilizes or declines, it will be difficult to justify the implementation of your vaccination policy; if there is a new wave of COVID-19 cases, a workplace vaccination policy might be needed.

Employer's responsibilities


A predominant employer’s responsibility remains the protection of employees and the preservation of their health in the workplace. This information should be considered when making decisions concerning the health aspects of the return to the office.

If your employees are not vaccinated, they will most likely need to wear a mask while working. However, if the risk of COVID-19 spread in the office is deemed too important, a vaccination policy may be justified.

As an employer, you must also be inclusive of all your employees. A balance between these responsibilities becomes vital in the context of a workplace vaccination policy.

Best Practices For Employers


“Employers who wish to implement a vaccination policy will have to think of different options to allow those who are not vaccinated, whether by choice or because of medical conditions, to continue to work. There are also alternative solutions such as: maintaining remote work, planning the return to the office, but with conditions such as daily health screening tests combined with the wearing of a mask, the daily COVID-19 questionnaire, social distancing, etc. Of course, employers will be able to defend their management rights, but at the same time, workers’ rights must also be respected. To set up a great work environment this fall, you will have to use good judgment and know how to fulfill your duty as an employer while respecting your employees’ rights. Closely following the evolution of the pandemic and the health measures in place is also a must.”  Emily Goupil, Health and Safety Consultant

The return to the office will not be easy to plan, whether it takes place in the fall of 2021 or is postponed. The best tactics to deploy are caution, prevention, listening and raising awareness.

Engaging in a constructive and open dialogue with your employees will help you avoid frustrating situations for everyone involved while encouraging some of your staff to consider vaccination.

Caution and Confidentiality


While it’s important to be cautious about the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the workplace, it’s also essential to manage information about employees’ vaccination status carefully. To centralize this data and maintain its privacy, we recommend using the employee module of an HRIS like Folks. It will let you choose who will have access to this information, and you will be able to keep a vaccination record for all your employees confidentially and without material issues.

Prevention and Communication


The best way to avoid the spread of COVID-19 when returning to the office is prevention. Take the time to communicate with your employees to remind them of the rules of social distancing, wearing masks, washing their hands, etc. 

Establish clear health rules and explain them to your employees before they return to the office. This will reassure them and keep them safe. Listen to their fears and questions with an open mind.

Listen and Talk


It is crucial to be a good listener in this situation. Remain open-minded and avoid judgement. Don’t alienate your employees in your haste to organize the return to the office. Take the time to listen to their fears, whether they are vaccinated or not, and question them on these important issues. By engaging in a dialogue, you will encourage your employees to share their feelings, and you will get a better understanding of their fears and doubts concerning vaccination. This will allow you to take the temperature of your employees’ vaccination status and better communicate on this issue in the future. 

You will also be able to encourage your employees to get vaccinated, which will help you to establish your specific workplace vaccination policy.

Information to Raise Awareness


Share reliable information about vaccines with your employees to prevent them from consulting questionable sources on their own.

Health measures are updated regularly. Therefore, you must stay well-informed on the issue of vaccination and vaccine passports so that you can best guide your employees if they have any questions.

Afterwards, it will be easier for you to educate your employees on the issue of vaccination, showing them that it is the best protective measure to return to the office.

Make Contextual Decisions


Decisions regarding vaccination and health measures will never be accepted by all. The most important aspect remains the protection of a majority of your employees without risking the exclusion of a portion of your workforce. 

Always explain the whys


Whatever decision you choose to make regarding mandatory vaccine passports will only be accepted if it is justified. Explain the whys and the hows.

Suppose your employees understand the risks of returning to the office unvaccinated and are informed of the health measures in place. In that case, they are more likely to be receptive to your arguments and more respectful of the sanitary rules.

They will also feel informed and therefore included in the whole process.

Protection and Inclusion


It is important to emphasize the protective value of any vaccination policy you might set up. Implementing such a policy must come from a desire to protect others without excluding a portion of employees. Again, caution and dialogue are your best allies: listen to what your unvaccinated employees have to say. An open discussion may convince them to change their minds, or at least it will have the advantage of not excluding them from your return to the office plan. Every single employee should feel heard and considered.


“There is no doubt that with the potential 4th wave and the new variants, we will have to be more careful than ever. Even if vaccination provides us with a level of collective immunity, it will still be necessary to encourage remote work, hand washing, the washing of surfaces and social distancing for all employees in the office. The more preventive health measures are taken in the workplace and among the population to avoid the spread of the virus, the more we can prevent the worst-case scenario.

Employers should also keep their employees’ mental health in mind, as there will be a potential divide between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, as well as a possible feeling of isolation for remote employees.” – Emily Goupil, Health and Safety Consultant


You can reach out to Emily Goupil, Health and Safety Consultant, to help you set up a return-to-office vaccination policy for your company. (emilygoupil@gorh.co / 4184541531)

To stay informed on the sanitary measures in place in real time, we recommend that you regularly check your province’s dedicated pages.

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