Canadian insurer Canada Life Assurance Co. and telecommunications giant Rogers Communications Inc. are the latest federally regulated companies to announce policies that will require employees either to be fully vaccinated before they return to offices this fall, or to take frequent COVID-19 tests if they can’t or won’t be inoculated.
The announcements follow last week’s shift in vaccination policies at Canada’s five largest banks, which are now requiring all staff who work in offices, branches and other bank buildings to attest that they are vaccinated or face various requirements and restrictions. Sun Life Financial Inc. announced similar measures as part of a pilot project that will see employees voluntarily return to certain offices around Sept 20.
On Monday, Canada Life – a subsidiary of Great-West Lifeco Inc. – joined the fray, notifying staff in an internal memo that all employees, contractors and advisers entering the firm’s offices must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept 30, or otherwise take rapid COVID-19 tests and receive negative results.
“Unfortunately, we’re still continuing to see a concerning increase in COVID-19 cases across Canada, caused by the more contagious Delta variant,” Great-West chief executive Paul Mahon said in the memo. “We know that vaccination is the most effective and reliable protection available to us today. And we believe it is in the best interests of our people and company to ensure individuals working in our office are fully vaccinated, where possible.”
Rogers also announced in an internal memo on Monday that its employees must either be fully vaccinated or start taking rapid tests by October 18, including staff working in the field and in retail stores.
By mid-September, Rogers employees will need to register their vaccination status using a questionnaire. Much like workers at Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank of Montreal, staff who are “unable to get vaccinated or who choose not to” will be required to test negative and wear masks while at work, chief human resources officer Jim Reid said in the memo.
“Over the past few days, you may have seen many Canadian companies announce that mandatory vaccinations will be required to safely return to the workplace,” Mr. Reid wrote. “We are encouraged to see many other organizations take similar measures.”
Corporate Canada’s views on vaccine policies have changed rapidly over the past week, after federal officials said they intend to compel federally regulated employers to make vaccination a workplace requirement.
Canada’s largest insurer, Manulife Financial Corp., declined to say whether it will implement a vaccination requirement for its employees. A spokesperson for BCE Inc., which owns Bell Canada, said the company is continuing to evaluate its plans. Telus Corp. did not respond to a request for comment.
In most cases, the requirements announced so far by banks, insurers and other federally regulated companies rely on employees attesting that they have been vaccinated, usually through an electronic form or survey. The policies do not require employees to show proof.
Companies have wrestled with the legality of requiring staff to get vaccinated. Critics of the mandates have said that they impinge on personal medical freedoms. Meanwhile, companies fear legal consequences if any lack of preventative measures leads to outbreaks.
Norm Keith, a partner at KPMG Law LLP, said in an interview that the law is unclear on whether employee attestations are enough to stave off liability for workplace spread of the virus. “I’d rather see the proof from the government and record that in our vaccine policy practice than just having an attestation,” he said. “I’ve recommended to many clients that they actually see the government ID.”
Recent legal precedent suggests that an employer may have grounds to fire an employee for cause if they are found to have lied about being vaccinated in an attestation, according to Mr. Keith.
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