What does ‘mandatory vaccine’ really mean?

Fine print suggests employers not necessarily taking tough stance

What does ‘mandatory vaccine’ really mean?

These days, the updates are almost hourly when it comes to which organizations or governments, such as Ottawa, require vaccinated workers.

Earlier, such bold announcements were few and far between, easily making the headlines. Debates about such a stance took over social media and the news media, as people challenged the infringement on their rights or questioned the legalities or expressed their support.

We’ve of course spoken with experts over the past few months to better understand what exactly employers are allowed to do when it comes to such mandates:

Over the past couple of decades (yes, this is an HR issue that we have covered for many years), we’ve also looked at the ins and outs of mandating seasonal flu shots for front-line workers:

What does ‘mandatory’ really mean?

Now, it’s a matter of deciphering what “mandatory vaccines” actually means. Looking at the small print, it can also mean an employer will allow those who refuse to have rapid antigen testing or  provide proof of negative tests every few days. It can also mean refusals based on human rights such as medical concerns will be considered. So mandatory isn’t necessarily mandatory.

"Proof of full vaccination must be provided and the only exception should be for people with a medical exemption," says Morgan Hoffarth, Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) president, in response to Ontario’s recent announcement.

“Medically exempted staff must be required to present proof of a negative test, a minimum of twice a week (or 24 to 48 hours prior to work for part-time and casual workers), not just once a week as the government indicated. These are crucial steps to prevent further spread of a highly transmissible variant.”

Nurses and doctors in Ontario have previously called for full COVID-19 vaccination of all health-care workers.

There’s no point in taking a hard line if you can’t stick with it or you don’t believe in it. If the main goal is to keep a workplace safer, it’s not going to work very well if a healthy percentage of your workforce doesn’t obey the new rules.

Which begs the question: Are some employers just pretending to take a tough stance when they really don’t care? Or they’re not convinced the safety risk is real? Or they don’t want to deal with the legal challenges?

Unlike other employer programs such as wellness or diversity initiatives, mandatory vaccines are about life and death or potentially very sick employees. And we’ve known all this for well over a year. So if high-risk employers truly want to do the right thing, they need to take a tough stance and stick to it.

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