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With the number of COVID-19 cases declining and government-imposed gathering and masking restrictions easing, some employers are starting to reconsider their mandatory vaccination policies.Gary Hershorn/Globe and Mail

Auditing giant Deloitte Canada is reversing its mandatory vaccination policy for employees, as more provinces move toward eliminating COVID-19 restrictions and companies begin re-evaluating their mandates.

Businesses grappled with introducing proof-of-vaccination requirements last year given the divisiveness of the issue, but with the number of COVID-19 cases declining and government-imposed gathering and masking restrictions easing, employers are starting to reconsider their policies.

Deloitte, a consulting firm that also advises employers on human-resources issues, is so far one of the few big white-collar employers to walk back vaccine mandates for employees.

Many large businesses that imposed vaccine mandates for workers have been reluctant to lift those requirements to date, said Neena Gupta, a partner and employment lawyer with Gowling WLG. “They are waiting to see if there is a flare-up of infections arising from the overall loosening of restrictions,” she said.

The other Big Four accounting firms – KPMG, PWC Canada and EY Canada – are keeping vaccine requirements in place, according to statements to The Globe and Mail. All of the Big Five banks – Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce – also said they would continue sticking to a compulsory vaccination policy for employees.

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PWC said the company would continue to review its vaccine mandate based on public-health guidelines. RBC, too, said that while it had not eliminated vaccine mandates, it would continue to monitor developments with the virus and adjust its vaccine policy appropriately.

Most government-mandated pandemic restrictions, including vaccine passports, have already been lifted in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia. Ontario will end mask mandates and all capacity restrictions on March 21 with Quebec in line to follow suit in mid-April.

Deloitte Canada, which employs more than 10,000 people, said that starting March 21, proof of vaccination will no longer be required to enter any of its offices across the country.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Deloitte Canada, which employs more than 10,000 people, said that starting March 21, proof of vaccination will no longer be required to enter any of its offices across Canada. It will also eliminate masking requirements in common spaces, although employees and clients going into company offices will still be required to complete a health-screening form to determine if they are displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

Deloitte was one of many employers in Canada to impose a vaccine policy for employees last year, though its policy did not extend to all employees, just those who were working from the company’s offices. Clients and visitors to Deloitte’s offices across the country were also required to be fully vaccinated.

The imposition of compulsory COVID-19 vaccination to congregate in workplaces, restaurants, gyms and sports arenas, as well as to board trains and planes and to cross international borders, has emerged as one of the most contentious issues of the pandemic.

The vast majority of workplace vaccine mandates took effect late last year and since then thousands of workers in Canada have either lost their jobs or been put on unpaid leave for refusing to get vaccinated. Some, according to employment lawyers The Globe spoke to earlier this year, had initiated wrongful-dismissal claims against their employers.

Toronto-Dominion Bank and other Big Five Banks have said they would continue sticking to a compulsory COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees.Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Last October, the federal government imposed a vaccine mandate for federal public servants and some federally regulated employers such as airlines as well as rail and marine transportation companies. In January, that mandate was extended to include unvaccinated truck drivers entering Canada, who were forced to comply with pre-arrival testing requirements as well as fulfill certain quarantine rules. A month later, amidst the trucker convoy and protest in Ottawa, a motion by Conservative members of Parliament to have all pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates removed was defeated by a big majority.

In response to a query from The Globe about whether Ottawa intends to maintain the vaccine mandate directive, a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said that the government would continue listening to the perspectives of federally regulated employers on the issue, to determine the approach going forward.

Most employers, however, are provincially regulated and no province has imposed a vaccine mandate for workers – some designed vaccine-passport systems to allow only the vaccinated to enter non-essential businesses.

“If the employer is of the view that the circumstances around COVID have really changed, I can see employers walking back the policy,” said Jessica Kearsey, a partner at Deloitte Legal Canada LLP. Ms. Kearsey, who advises Deloitte Canada’s clients on workplace issues such as vaccine mandates, noted that because of the absence of any actual changes to federal and provincial labour codes, it has always been up to the employer to balance exposure to infections with employee rights and expectations. (The federal vaccine mandate was merely a directive, not a legal change to the Canada Labour Code.)

Airline employees wearing protective face masks arrive at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on March 13, 2020. Last October, the federal government imposed a vaccine mandate for some federally regulated employers such as airlines as well as rail and marine transportation companies.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

But Lior Samfiru, managing partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, whose firm has handled a number of cases involving employees dismissed for not complying to workplace vaccine mandates, believes that employers will eventually get rid of compulsory vaccination requirements if governments signal that it is all right to do so.

“I think employers are going to take their lead from the government. So as long as governments do not reimpose COVID restrictions and move to eliminate vaccine mandates, I think employers will remove their own policies,” he told The Globe.

Mr. Samfiru also said that immediately after various provinces started easing their restrictions, his firm started seeing employers debating whether to recall their vaccine mandates.

Recent data from the job posting site Indeed.com showed that the share of Canadian job postings mentioning vaccine requirements stopped rising at the end of January. The share of job postings mentioning some form of vaccine-related requirement went from 2.4 per cent at the beginning of September to 11.5 per cent in mid-January and has remained the same ever since.

A February survey conducted by the Canadian Federation for Independent Business showed that 60 per cent of businesses supported eliminating vaccine mandates for employees, compared with 37 per cent who disagreed with getting rid of them.

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