Four of Canada's top five banks are moving away from a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy

Four of Canada’s top five banks are moving away from a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy

With the relaxation of public health restrictions, such as collection restrictions, and the masking of mandates and vaccinations across counties, it appears that banks are changing their policies accordingly.Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Nine months after it was imposed, four of Canada’s top five banks have suspended or removed mandatory vaccine requirements for employees, amid a broader lifting of COVID-19 restrictions across the country.

Bank of Nova Scotia BNS-T, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce CM-T, Royal Bank of Canada RY-T and Bank of Montreal BMO-T have lifted mandatory employee vaccination policies over the past six weeks, allowing unvaccinated people to work In offices and branches without undergoing additional security measures such as rapid testing.

All five major banks took a firm stand on vaccinations last August, requiring employees to prove they had been fully vaccinated by a certain date in order to enter any bank building. Some, such as the CIBC and BMO, have made vaccination mandatory for all employees, even those who work from home.

But public health restrictions, such as pooling restrictions, masking of mandates and vaccination across counties, have since loosened, and banks appear to be changing their policies accordingly.

In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Scotiabank said it has temporarily halted its vaccination policy, and non-vaccinated employees are no longer required to follow concealment and rapid office testing procedures. The bank said 94 percent of its employees in Canada were fully vaccinated as of this week.

The CIBC also told The Globe that it had dropped the vaccine requirements after taking into account “government and public health guidance.” BMO also told The Globe that there is currently no mandatory vaccination policy.

RBC suspended its vaccine requirements on May 23 for US and Canadian employees after consulting with public health officials, said the bank’s head of human resources, Helena Gotschling.

“It has become more difficult to get a higher standard of what is required of employees in the workplace than what is required in the wider community,” said Ms. Gotschling, referring to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

We have very high vaccination rates in the bank. Getting an authorization was the responsible thing to do at the time, and we really saw an increase in vaccination numbers after it was enforced.” RBC allowed non-vaccinated employees to work on its premises, as long as they showed evidence of a negative rapid COVID test and were masked. These requirements since.

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Toronto Dominion Bank TD-T has not responded to multiple requests from The Globe about whether it has changed its mandatory vaccine policy.

Vaccine mandates have been one of the most controversial aspects of the pandemic, a rights struggle that has pitted individual liberties against societal protection for people more broadly. Across the country, hundreds of health care workers, government employees and private sector workers have been fired or given unpaid leave for not receiving a vaccination, which has led to numerous legal challenges on the issue, some of which still operate through the system. Courts, lawyers say.

But the frenzy surrounding compulsory vaccinations appears to be easing along with the decrease in hospitalizations and deaths linked to the Coronavirus.

“I understand why employers are stopping or removing vaccine mandates at this time. These policies were controversial at first, and it was time to put an end to them,” said Kelly Overall, partner in employment and labor law at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. Ms Overall said she has watched employers go one of three ways their vaccine policies have been in place over the past few months: pause them, remove them entirely, or stop enforcing them.

So what will happen to unvaccinated employees who have been laid off or given unpaid leave by employers who have since rolled back their vaccination mandates?

“It depends if you are a provincial or federal employee,” said Andrew Monkus, partner at Toronto-based Monkhouse Law. “Employees subject to federal regulation, such as bank employees for example, can request that they be reinstated under the Unfair Separation Clause of the Canadian Labor Code. But the vast majority of such cases will be settled by paying the worker a lump sum.”

Kathleen Chevalier, labor law partner at Bay Street Stikeman Elliott LLP, said it was unlikely an unvaccinated employee would have a strong case against an employer who changed their vaccine policy.

“These policies were put in place when COVID was present enough to pose real health and safety risks. Ms Chevalier said the employer’s position was that the decision was justified at the time it was made and for the duration it covers.

PwC Canada has also removed all of its COVID-related protocols including hiding employees returning to the office indoors. The accounting firm made those changes in April, after the majority of county public health authorities dropped vaccine mandates. Employees who are not comfortable with unpersuasive colleagues have the option of sitting on the floor reserved for persuasive employees only.

However, some employers continue to stick to their vaccination mandates. In statements to The Globe, Canada Life and Sun Life, they said they are still requesting that everyone who enters their offices be vaccinated. Canada Life said it will reassess that policy on July 1.

Ms Chevalier says there is a risk that the vaccine mandate will be removed and later reintroduced if circumstances warrant: If new unvaccinated workers are hired, it will be difficult to know how to deal with them.

“I must say that in general, there are quite a few employers who have decided to do away with vaccine policies altogether. There is a reluctance to say the job is done so far,” she said.

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2022-05-31 19:40:15

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