Return to the Workplace – Vaccinations and Accommodations

Woman holding up her phone to show that she has been vaccinated

Results from the Sept 29th, 2021 Benefits Breakfast Club

Staying informed during the changing landscape is critical to implementing policies and practices that are on trend and based on sound legal and medical advice. At the September 29th Benefits Breakfast Club, Joel Smith, Partner at Williams HR Law and Dr Arif Bhimji, Medical Director with arc Health Management clarified the legal and medical obligations for employers and employees with respect to vaccination and accommodations. Key take-aways from attendees were the challenge of regional policies that are constantly changing, balancing employer and employee needs with vaccination and returning to the workplace, and developing health and safety policies.

As insightful as the presentations were, the results of the pre session attendee poll exposed the magnitude of challenges plan sponsors are facing as they develop new workplace policies to return employees safely to the workplace. Most advisors reported that their clients have legal concerns around unvaccinated employees, but do not have a clear vaccination policy and are looking for guidance.

Polling also confirmed that over and above additional mental health and wellbeing resources, employers have provided flexible work arrangements during COVID-19 and are now struggling with returning employees to the workplace. This includes logistical issues around implementation of proof of vaccination, employees who wish to continue to work remotely and employees who are reluctant to receive vaccination. Returning employees to full time schedules and tracking when an employee is and is not able to work when working remotely have also presented additional challenges.  

During one-on-one discussions to explore how plan sponsors are responding, Denise Balch, President, Connex Health was joined by Elizabeth Desjardins, Special Advisor in Innovative Recruitment and Assessment Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada; and Doug Kube, President of Kube Environment, Health, Safety and Risk.

Here is a recap of some of the key learnings from the morning’s presentations and discussions:

  • Employers are required to have a vaccination policy in place, which may include a mandatory requirement that employees must be vaccinated in some or all circumstances, or they may impose mandatory testing.
  • While employees are not legally required to be vaccinated, refusal of the vaccine could be reason for dismissal. Mandatory vaccination could be contributing to the “great resignation boom”, but it could also be an opportunity to attract talent.
  • Employers have a duty to accommodate, whether through remote working or through a mask or vaccine exemption, which applies only in the case of a medical or disability diagnosis. However, gaining access to the information required to assess the need for accommodations is not always forthcoming from physicians. Employers can provide alternatives to the requests submitted by employees and their physicians in the case of a non-medical accommodation request.
  • There is a wide gap between employers on how they are handling returning to the workplace. Some employers, including the federal public service, have clear return to the workplace policies including mandatory vaccination. However, many employers are not prepared to implement appropriate health and safety guidelines in their workplace for the ongoing risk of COVID-19.

Based on the information presented, advisors can play a key role by providing valuable guidance to their clients on benefits and wellness resources, as well as returning to the workplace policies and best practices to help plan sponsors navigate the current changing climate. In doing so advisors can work with their clients to create an opportunity to attract top talent.

Don’t forget to register to our next BBC session on November 25th where we will address the under-explored topic of Stretching the Limits of Data Analytics in Group Benefits, and our BPHA at Lunch session on December 9th for an overdue update on Biologics and Biosimilars Reimbursement.

Once again we want to thank our presenters and our one-on-one guests, as well as our sponsors for their support. You can find our sponsors here.