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Unvaccinated City of Toronto staff face looming deadline, suspension and possible dismissal
Oct. 29, 2021
David Rider

City of Toronto employees got a Halloween treat -- extra time to prove they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 -- but holdouts could soon face some scary consequences.

The city had given its almost 32,000 active employees until Sept. 17 to show proof of first vaccination. That was extended until end of day Sunday, with the deadline for proof of double vaccination now Nov. 15.

Extra time was granted, said city spokesperson Brad Ross, to give workers chances to take advantage of vaccination clinics being held in city work yards and other workplaces.

However those who remain completely unvaccinated, or who won’t disclose their status, will soon be on unpaid leave. Starting next week they’ll meet with managers and be sent home for up to six weeks. If they still refuse, they’ll then be terminated with cause.

“Ultimately, we want staff to get vaccinated,” Ross said. “That’s our goal.”

The city was among the first Toronto employers to announce vaccination mandates with tough penalties meant to set an example to other employers on how to drive up the vaccination rate and minimize virus spread in workplaces.

City managers are drafting contingency plans to ensure employee absences due to the vaccine mandate don’t result in reduced services to residents, as is expected with the TTC.

Based on the city staff’s very high vaccination rate to date -- much higher than the overall average for Toronto, one of the most vaccinated big cities in the world -- there appears to be little chance of disruption.

“We don’t foresee any kind of major impact to our (City of Toronto) services if we find ourselves in the situation of having to suspend people without pay and maybe ultimately having to terminate them,” city manager Chris Murray told Mayor John Tory’s executive committee on Wednesday.

The city does expect, however, “in the short term” to incur overtime costs covering for unvaccinated or undeclared workers off the job, he said.

Ross said the city is focused on “ensuring critical and emergency services continue to be maintained and delivered to residents and businesses.”

As of a week ago, 31,141 city workers -- 98 per cent of the active total -- had declared their vaccination status, with 732 yet to report.

Of those who reported, 92 per cent were fully vaccinated, 5 per cent had one dose, 2 per cent were unvaccinated and the remainder refused to disclose their status.

That left just over 1,000 workers unvaccinated or undisclosed.

Murray on Monday is expected to provide a breakdown of which city departments remain the most unvaccinated. As of Sept. 24, vaccination rates lagged in solid waste management and parks, forestry and recreation.

Expecting more absences, the TTC is planning to cut about 10 per cent of service next month, while maintaining capacity on the busiest routes.

Among other cities agencies canvassed by the Star on Thursday, only Toronto Community Housing raised the spectre of service reductions.

As of Wednesday, 91 per cent of the social housing provider’s staff had disclosed their vaccination status. Of those who disclosed, 92 per cent were fully vaccinated, 4 per cent had one dose and 4 per cent were unvaccinated or refusing to disclose.

“With the potential temporary reduction in front-line staff in the event of employees being placed on unpaid leave or terminated under this policy, there may be some short-term service level reductions and every effort will be made to minimize impacts to tenants,” TCH said in an email.

The situation at some other agencies, all with vaccination mandates: