Working-from-home and unvaccinated coworkers in post-pandemic world

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Will I see you — in person — in September?


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Olivia Cicchini, an employment law content specialist with Peninsula Canada, said the fall will likely bring many challenges for employers and employees, especially as they tend to have differing views on how well work-from-home actually works.

“So it’s strange, a lot of employees have said that they feel more productive while working from home while a lot of employers have said that they feel productivity has gone down because, obviously, you can’t monitor the employee in person if they’re working remotely,” Cicchini said.

Employers will have the power to decide when employees come back, who comes back, and whether to allow some to continue working from home, perhaps for accommodation reasons, she said.


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“I think most employers will want their employees to return to the workplace,” Cicchini said.

Olivia Cicchini is an employment law content specialist with Peninsula Canada.
Olivia Cicchini is an employment law content specialist with Peninsula Canada. Photo by Supplied

Stats Canada said in April that 32% of Canadian employees aged 15 to 69 were working mostly from home, up from 4% in 2016.

Nine out of 10 of these new teleworkers believed they were equally or more productive than when they were in their previous workplaces, Stats Canada says.

Those who felt less productive often blamed the lack of interaction with coworkers, child care demands, an inadequate workspace or internet speed issues.

Eight out of 10 new teleworkers said they’d like to work at least half of their hours from home even when not required to by the pandemic, and about one in three would prefer to work most or all the time from home.


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“I think one of the biggest challenges will be even getting employees to go back to work,” Cicchini said.

Many employees have become used to working from home, enjoying the commuting time and money saved, and may now have child care or dependent obligations, she said.

One of the trickiest issues in any return to physical workplaces will be vaccination status, she said.

“The vaccinated employees are worried about going back in and having to work alongside unvaccinated coworkers, while the unvaccinated employees are worried about going back and maybe having some stigma surrounding either their choice not to get vaccinated or if they are unable to because of their religion, their pre-existing health conditions, something like that,” Cicchini said.


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An unvaccinated employee is guarded from discrimination if the refusal is based on grounds protected by human rights legislation, she said.

“There’s no protection for being an anti-vaxxer,” she said.

Employers can ask their employees if they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 but the worker has no legal obligation to provide proof or even answer the question, she said.

Without the employee’s permission, the employer cannot disclose one’s vaccination status to coworkers, she said.

“What we’ve been saying is that we strongly advise employees to answer because employers have the duty to ensure that the workplace is safe for staff, visitors, clients, all of those people,” Cicchini said.

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The Toronto Sun asked the Ontario Ministry of Labour about return to workplaces:


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A lot of people will be returning to offices and other workplaces over the next few months. What’s required of employers to ensure they feel safe from COVID-19?

Employers have obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations to protect workers from hazards in the workplace, including infectious diseases.

All businesses and organizations permitted to be open must have a COVID-19 workplace safety plan.

The safety plan should be based on public health and sector-specific requirements and guidance on preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Employers may also wish to reach out to workers in advance of their return to work to share information about what to expect in the workplace and what precautions have been put in place to protect their health and safety.


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Can people refuse to go to work because they are concerned about COVID-19?

If a worker is concerned about their safety, the OHSA provides a worker with the right to refuse work that the worker believes will likely endanger himself/herself or another worker.

The worker must promptly report the circumstances of the work refusal to their employer or supervisor.

When a worker refuses work, employers are required to conduct an investigation and try to resolve the issue internally.

If there is no resolution, the worker, employer or person on their behalf must notify the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and an inspector will follow-up in consultation with the workplace parties.

How many work refusals have been conducted due to concern over COVID-19?

There have been 96 COVID-19-related work refusals between Jan. 1 and July 15, 2021, and four have met the criteria under section 43(3) of the (OHSA).

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