Corp Comm Connects

Newmarket, York Region, Southlake keeping employee COVID-19 vaccination mandates

Organizations fired all unvaccinated employees in recent months
March 4, 2022
Joseph Quigley

The Town of Newmarket, Regional Municipality of York and Southlake Regional Health Centre are all keeping mandatory employee COVID-19 vaccination policies despite the province lifting the mandate.

All three organizations introduced policies last year requiring employees to be vaccinated, including terminating employees who failed to do so to achieve 100 per cent vaccination rates. But those policies remain in effect even with the province ending its public vaccination mandate March 1.

“We have an obligation as an employer to ensure a healthy and safe workplace, and we remain strongly committed to protecting the health and safety of our community,” Town of Newmarket CAO Ian McDougall said.

The organizations all worked for months to implement their vaccination policies -- which allowed for medical exemptions -- offering warnings before proceeding with firings. Newmarket fired three staff for failing to comply, while York Region fired approximately 64. Southlake said it fired 56 staff members, adding that 64 per cent of them “were in a part-time or casual role.”

York director of corporate communications Patrick Casey said the policy remains a “critical layer of safety” for the organization.

“York Region continues to take every possible step to protect our employees and residents, including through our mandatory vaccination policy, and strongly recommending all staff obtain booster vaccines as they become available,” Casey said.

COVID-19 cases have significantly declined since the peak of the Omicron wave, though York Region Public Health has said there could be an uptick with the lifting of the restrictions. There are 37 hospitalized with COVID-19 in the region as of March 3.

Southlake communications strategist Danae Theakston said Ontario is allowing hospitals keep these policies in place. Southlake is maintaining the policy for visitors as well.

"The safety of patients and our Southlake team members who provide and support their care is of the utmost importance,” Theakston said. “The team at Southlake continues to strongly encourage anyone in the community who hasn’t been vaccinated yet to do so right away.”

But updates to the policies are not forthcoming, despite public health urging for booster COVID-19 vaccinations due to waning immunity after a second dose and the infectiousness of the Omicron variant.

Casey said the policy is aligned with provincial directives for long-term care, which have yet to change. He added it is too early to understand the impact of lifting current public restrictions.

“We are committed to continuously re-evaluating our policies if COVID-19 cases continue to trend in a positive direction and there are no bounce-back effects from the lifting of restrictions,” he said.

McDougall also said they are not looking to update the policy to include booster shots.

“They are not mandated through public health,” he said. “We will, as always, continue to closely monitor the ever-changing pandemic landscape.”

Municipal employees are not necessarily rushing back to the office yet. In a Feb. 24 report, York Region CAO Bruce Macgregor said the return would not occur till April at the earliest.

“About 40 per cent of our staff are working remotely and doing so effectively, and we anticipated that will remain in effect into the month of April,” he told council. “Without a big rush to get people back on the road to add to the traffic congestion without measurably changing the outcomes we’re monitoring.”

The region faced criticism from an anonymous group of employees opposed to the vaccination policy, Stand Up for York Region, who argued the municipality should accommodate them through regular testing or working from home.

Newmarket indicated its return to the office procedure is still being worked on.