York Region stands by vaccination mandate after legal success
Oct. 19, 2022
York Region is standing its ground on its vaccination policy even as public health measures lift across the province.
The region introduced an employee mandate for two COVID-19 vaccination doses at the end of last year and fired 78 employees for failing to comply. Meanwhile, employees have continued to push back, with the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 905 filing grievances on the matter.
Stand Up For York Region, an anonymous group that represents terminated employees, wrote to the region this month about the continued policy.
“The federal government has dropped their mandatory COVID-19 vaccination mandate for employment,” the group said. “What science are you following that says to keep a COVID-19 mandatory vaccination policy in place for all current and new employees?”
The regional policy affects all its employees, and it was updated to require three vaccination doses for those working in long-term care homes. The federal government ended its COVID-19 vaccination mandate for employees in June, though it remains in place for the military. Ontario only had a vaccine mandate for long-term care workers, which it revoked in March.
Director of corporate communications Patrick Casey said the region stands by its policy. He cited recent arbitration cases, which supported the region over the grievances of CUPE Local 905.
“Ensuring our workforce, including new hires, are vaccinated against COVID-19 remains a critical layer of safety,” Casey said. “Continuing to maintain our vaccination policy is consistent with our obligations under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act.”
Stand Up For York Region has pushed back and suggested that a large number of employees remain working from home and that accommodations could be made to allow other employees to work from home. But the region has not made such an exception, and when asked by NewmarketToday, did not indicate how many employees are still working from home.
Although it has updated its policy to require three doses for employees at long-term care homes, the region has not indicated that the policy has been updated for its other employees. Public health officials have recommended at least three-dose vaccinations for months, with a newer bivalent vaccination stronger against Omicron COVID-19 variants also more recently available and recommended.
Unions have fought back against the policy, with the York Regional Police union stopping it from applying to its members.
CUPE Local 905, which represents the region’s long-term care employees among other sectors, has filed 29 grievances over the updated policy as of July 7, according to a legal ruling. It argued that the policy is not consistent with the provincial directive and does not fairly balance the needs of the employees.
But arbitrator Stephen Raymond decided otherwise in August and said the policy meets the collective agreement obligations to promote a “safe and healthy work environment.”
“In the vast majority of cases pertaining to such policies, the reasonableness of a policy continues to be upheld,” Casey said.
Most employees did comply with the policy, with about a 98 per cent compliance rate among more than 4,400 employees, Casey added.
Still, not all of the CUPE Local 905 grievances have been handled, with another hearing coming on the termination provision of the policy.
Former employees still hope to see the mandate end, despite the region’s legal successes.
“We hope that you see the other side of this, publicly speak out and drop the mandate immediately,” Stand Up for York Region said.
Other sectors continue to drop vaccination mandates. Seneca College, which as campuses in York Region and across the GTA, announced this week it would drop its mandate starting in January,
York University already decided to pause its own vaccination mandate back in May.