Workplaces and Vaccinations

Workplaces & Vaccinations

Workplace controls and vaccination help protect workers and the public from being exposed to COVID-19 and from getting sick if they are exposed.

Workplace controls include the mandatory COVID-19 requirements that workplaces must follow to be open, which apply no matter how many workers are vaccinated. The requirements in Step 3 (as outlined in Ontario Regulation 364/20: Rules for Areas in Step 3) include, but are not limited to: screening, physical distancing, wearing of masks and eye protection (where indicated), cleaning, and having a COVID-19 safety plan.

Two separate announcements and recommendations have recently been made regarding workplaces and vaccinations. The first recommendation came from Lambton County’s Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Chris Greensmith, to encourage workplace vaccination policies for employees. The second announcement was made from the provincial government requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination in certain public settings.

Workplace Vaccination Policies – For staff

Lambton Public Health strongly recommends all local employers institute mandatory vaccine policies for staff to protect their organization and the public from COVID-19 and the Delta variant which is currently circulating in the community. 

Proof of Vaccine Requirement – For patrons at select public settings

The provincial government announced that effective September 22, 2021 Ontario will require proof of vaccination in select settings. This means patrons will be required to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of their vaccination status to access certain businesses and settings in Ontario.

Please note, the information provided on this webpage does not contain legal advice and should not be relied on or treated as legal advice. It does not replace or modify the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), Employment Standards Act (ESA), or their respective regulations. Workplaces should seek their own legal advice to address their specific workplace circumstances. The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development inspectors and officers apply the law based on the facts in the workplace.

Workplace Vaccination Policies (for staff)

To help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, Lambton Public Health strongly recommends that all local employers institute mandatory vaccine policies for staff to protect their companies and customers from COVID-19. Vaccines are a good complement to workplace controls. Together, workplace vaccination policies and workplace controls help prevent workers from being exposed and help protect workers from getting sick if they are exposed.

Employers should assess the workplace risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission and identify appropriate control measures. When assessing risk, consider:

  • How many workers are part of your workforce?
  • Can workers keep at least two metres apart while performing their work?
  • Are there circumstances in which masks can or must be removed in the context of workplace activities? (This includes workers, customers/patrons and members of the public entering the workplace.) 
  • Are workers required to be in close contact with others, at the workplace or in the community while performing their work?
  • How long and how often are workers in close contact with others workers, customers/patrons or the public? 
  • Does your workplace have: physical barriers when workers cannot keep distanced from each other, customers/patrons or the public; good ventilation; and/or personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect workers?
  • Do you have workers who may be at risk for severe illness from COVID-19? Some people may have reduced immunity due to age, pre-existing health conditions or medical treatments. 
  • Is your workplace able to offer alternative work for people who require accommodation, for example remote work? 

Developing a Workplace Vaccination Policy

A workplace vaccination policy is an important measure employers should implement to protect their workers and the public. LPH recommends including the following components in a workplace vaccination policy:

1. Identify the scope and purpose 

  • Explain the purpose of the policy including the risks of COVID-19. Vaccination against COVID-19 is one of the best ways to protect workers who work in a location with common areas and/or where workers can have contact with other workers, customers/patrons or the public. The Delta variant of the coronavirus is more contagious, with greater risk for severe illness and hospitalization.
  • Explain who the policy applies to. Will the policy apply to all workers (i.e., not just employees but also contractors such as staff from third party agencies or volunteers and students, etc.)? Is there a separate policy for customers/patrons?
  • Explain that the policy may change as the status of the pandemic changes and/or legislation or public health advice changes. 
  • Have a clear communication plan to inform workers about the policy. 

2. List action steps workers must take

When determined by the employers to be reasonably necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace or in the community while performing their work, workplace policies should require workers to provide proof of vaccination, with vaccines approved by Health Canada or the World Health Organization. 

Alternatively, workers who do not provide proof of vaccination may need to, for example:

  • Indicate that they have a medical exemption, including if the reasons are temporary or permanent. The medical exemption should be written by a licensed doctor or nurse practitioner and does not need to include the reason for the exemption.
  • Complete a vaccination education course, and provide proof via a signed declaration stating that they have reviewed and understood the content. The vaccination education course should include information on: 
    • How the COVID-19 vaccines work
    • Vaccine safety related to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines
    • The benefits of vaccination against COVID-19; and, 
    • Possible side effects of COVID-19 vaccination 

3. Set deadlines for when the actions must be taken

Specify a reasonable date when workers must demonstrate compliance with various elements of the workplace policy. 

4. List available supports for vaccination 

Demonstrate your commitment to supporting workers to get vaccinated. Ways to support workers to get vaccinated include:

  • Providing vaccine information from credible sources or translated resources
  • Supporting vaccine champions to initiate conversation with their peers
  • Providing paid leave to get vaccinated
  • Reminding workers that they are entitled to up to three paid sick days under the Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit, if they have side effects from the vaccine
  • Providing transportation to support to get vaccinated
  • Informing your workforce of the many opportunities to get vaccinated through community clinics, pharmacies and primary care. Refer to www.getthevaccine.ca for up to date information.

5. Provisions for unvaccinated workers

List alternative options for workers who decline to get vaccinated for reasons protected by Ontario’s Human Rights Code, including those unable to complete their vaccination series for medical reasons. The appropriate response(s) may depend on the work of the workers, the type of workplace and consideration of the duty to accommodate (if applicable). Some options to consider include:

  • Use of additional PPE, worker relocation and modified work or reassignments.
  • In the event of COVID-19 outbreak, unvaccinated and partially vaccinated workers (who have only received one dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series) should not be permitted to work in the outbreak area. Workers without vaccination records should be assumed to be unvaccinated. 
  • If reassignment is not possible, consider other options including whether unvaccinated workers should receive paid or unpaid leave or use vacation days until it is safe for them to return to the workplace. 

6. Non-Compliance 

Outline the potential consequences for workers who do not fulfill the requirements of the policy. 

7. Privacy Considerations

Specify how individual vaccination status of employees will be used by employers to mitigate the health-related risks of COVID-19. 

Information about workers’ vaccination information must be protected in accordance with applicable privacy legislation. Knowing your workers’ vaccination status may be important to help you take appropriate action quickly, in the event of COVID-19 cases in your workplace, to protect workers, their families, customers/patrons, and the general public. This may include sharing that information with public health officials. 

When collecting information about a worker’s vaccination status:

  • Identify ways to safeguard workers’ personal health information
  • Limit information collected to what is reasonably necessary, e.g. copy of the proof of vaccination for each dose
  • Keep worker vaccination information separate from their personnel file
  • Ensure personal health/vaccination information is kept in a secure manner and only used when required 

8. Staff contact

Identify who at your organization staff should contact with questions about the policy, to request accommodation, or for more information about how to comply with the policy. The policy should also indicate the person to whom workers should provide proof of vaccination. 

9. Continued adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures

Vaccination does not replace the need for strict adherence to established COVID-19 public health measures. Employers must continue to implement all COVID-19 prevention measures for their sector outlined in provincial guidelines and Lambton Public Health guidance including, but not limited to: screening, physical distancing, wearing of masks and eye protection, hand hygiene, infection prevention and control, and a COVID-19 safety plan. 

Employers can also choose to participate in a Rapid Screening Program. There are two options for workplaces in Lambton wanting to implement programs: 

Adapted with permission from Toronto Public Health.

Proof of Vaccine Requirement (for patrons)

Effective September 22, 2021 the province of Ontario will require proof of vaccination in select settings. This means patrons will be required to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of their vaccination status to access certain businesses and settings in Ontario. Proof of vaccination means showing your vaccine receipt when entering designated settings along with another piece of photo identification, such as a driver’s licence or health card. Click here to access your provincial vaccine receipt.

For more information, please refer to:

For signage at your workplace, please refer to:

Resources

Workplace Vaccination Policy

Proof of Vaccination

Vaccine Education Resources

Additional Vaccine Information & Resources – Lambton Public Health

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should employers implement a vaccinations policy?

Employers have an obligation to maintain a safe work environment for their workers. To help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, all employers should address the need for a workplace vaccination policy. A workplace vaccination policy is an important measure employers can implement to protect their workers and the public. 
 
Promoting vaccine uptake is important to help reduce COVID-19 workplace outbreaks and build confidence for a safer return to work. The COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect your workplace from the risks of COVID-19. It is safe and highly effective at reducing virus spread and protecting against serious illness.  
 
Workplaces can help encourage vaccination by creating a supportive environment that makes it easier for workers to get vaccinated, and by providing information from trusted sources. COVID-19 vaccination provides an important layer of protection for workers, their families and the community.  
 
Your workplace policy should be in writing and adhere to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code and privacy laws. 

How can employers encourage their employees to get vaccinated?

Demonstrate your commitment to supporting workers to get vaccinated. Ways to support workers to get vaccinated include:
• Providing vaccine information from credible sources or translated resources
• Supporting vaccine champions to initiate conversation with their peers
• Providing paid leave to get vaccinated
• Reminding workers that they are entitled to up to three paid sick days under the Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit, if they have side effects from the vaccine
• Providing transportation to support to get vaccinated
• Informing your workforce of the many opportunities to get vaccinated through community clinics, pharmacies and primary care. Refer to www.getthevaccine.ca for an up to date information.

Does LPH recommend a specific vaccination education course?

Workplaces are encouraged to access existing education by credible sources or to develop their own education based on credible information.
 
COVID-19 vaccination education should include information on: 
• How the COVID-19 vaccines work
• Vaccine safety related to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines
• The benefits of vaccination against COVID-19; and, 
• Possible side effects of COVID-19 vaccination 
 
There are multiple credible sources you can refer to:
Ask the experts video series: COVID-19 vaccines questions – Government of Canada
COVID-19 vaccination in Canada: an educational series for primary care professionals – University of Toronto
• Additional Vaccine Information & Resources – Lambton Public Health

Are there rapid screening programs available for workplaces in Lambton County?

Yes. There are two options for employers in Lambton wanting to participate in Rapid Screening Programs.
• The StaySafe™ Lambton Rapid Antigen Screening Program provides free rapid antigen tests for employees of businesses with 150 employees or less. Visit Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce Covid Resources Page for additional information. 
• The Provincial Antigen Screening Program (PASP) provides free rapid antigen test kits to high-risk communities, organizations and essential workplaces.  Visit PASP to learn more about the program and find out about eligibility, training, on-site rapid testing and reporting requirements.

If most employees in a workplace are vaccinated, do they still have to follow the COVID-19 public health measures?

Yes. The best way to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 spread in your workplace is to have multiple controls in place.

Vaccination is a critical public health measure that protects against COVID-19. LPH strongly recommends all workplaces develop a workplace vaccination policy to protect their workers and the public from COVID-19.

However, no single action, including vaccination, is perfect at controlling risks. Other public health measures that contribute towards a safer workplace continue to be required which include staying home when unwell, active screening prior to work, physical distancing, wearing a mask indoors, wearing a mask and eye protection when unable to maintain at least 2 metres distance and/or when in contact with an unmasked individual, regular hand hygiene, environmental cleaning and disinfection and good ventilation. All businesses that are operating must have a written safety plan by law. The plan must be made available to anyone who asks to see it, and posted in a place where it will be seen easily.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act defines employees and employers’ rights and obligations. Employees may refuse to work if they believe it is unsafe for them or another employee. Visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development to learn more.

Can employers ask an employee if they have been vaccinated?

Vaccinations may be mandatory for employees if employed in settings that are provincially mandated and/or where workplaces have vaccination policies in place.  In these cases, employers may require proof of vaccination as part of a workplace vaccination policy. Employees are required to follow the direction of their employer if these policies apply to their workplace. 

The appropriate response(s) to employees who choose not to be vaccinated may depend on the work of the workers, the type of workplace and consideration of the duty to accommodate (if applicable). Some options to consider include:
• Use of additional PPE, worker relocation and modified work or reassignments.
• In the event of COVID-19 outbreak, unvaccinated and partially vaccinated workers (who have only received one dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series) should not be permitted to work in the outbreak area. Workers without vaccination records should be assumed to be unvaccinated. 
• If reassignment is not possible, consider other options including whether unvaccinated workers should receive paid or unpaid leave or use vacation days until it is safe for them to return to the workplace. 

Workplace vaccination policies should specify how individual vaccination status of employees will be used to mitigate the health-related risks of COVID-19. Information about workers’ vaccination information must be protected in accordance with applicable privacy legislation. More information, please refer to the Human Rights Code and COVID-19.

If employees do not want to get vaccinated, can employers require that they get a vaccine?

A workplace vaccination policy should outline action steps workers must take, including in the situation where workers do not provide proof of vaccination or make a written request for accommodation. 

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), employers have a duty to maintain a safe work environment and take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers. It may be reasonable for an employer to impose restrictions on non-vaccinated employees to protect all employees, including with respect to site access and contact with other groups within the workplace.

However, workplace requirements must follow federal or provincial human rights legislation. Therefore, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine is voluntary. The OHSA and the Employment Standards Act (ESA) do not directly address vaccination or the enforcement of employer vaccination policies for workers. There may be other statutes and considerations that apply to a workplace vaccination policy. Please refer to the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care for information regarding the provincially-mandated long-term care home COVID-19 immunization policy.

The Ontario Human Rights Code protects workers with exemptions or disabilities from discrimination. For example, the risk of an allergic reaction to the vaccine would be considered a medical disability. Employers are required to accommodate exempted workers, on an individual basis. The nature of the accommodation will vary depending on the nature of the disability or exemption, the nature of the work, and the opportunities for alternative work.

How can employers protect employees’ health and safety if they need to work near an employee who is not vaccinated?

Vaccination is an additional public health measure that protects against COVID-19. Other public health measures that contribute towards a safer workplace should continue to be practised, such as staying home when not feeling well, active screening prior to work, physical distancing, wearing a mask indoors, wearing a mask and eye protection when unable to maintain at least 2 metres distance, regular handwashing, environmental cleaning and disinfection and optimizing ventilation.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act defines employees and employers’ rights and obligations. Employees may refuse to work If they believe it is unsafe for them or another employee. Visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development to learn more.

Can I be exempt from the COVID-19 vaccine?

As per Ontario Regulation 364/20: Schedule 1, Section 2.1, the proof of vaccination requirement for patrons to go to select businesses and public settings currently outlines the below exemptions:
• Medical exemption, and/or
• Children who are 11 years of age and younger.
 
There are additional exemptions limited to specific scenarios (e.g., youth aged 12-18 to participate in organized sports at a sport and rec facility, entering an indoor area to use a washroom, etc).
 
There may be other reasons why an individual decides to not get the vaccine; however, such reasons do not qualify as an exemption to the proof of vaccine requirement.
 
Some workplaces are required to have a workplace vaccination policy for staff, such as Long-Term Care, Hospitals and Schools. Lambton Public Health recommends all local employers implement a workplace or organizational vaccination policy. A workplace vaccination policy is made by the employer and applies to that specific workplace only. A workplace vaccination policy will outline any exemptions that may apply. Please refer to the policy for your workplace or organization for details.
 
Medical exemptions
• The Province of Ontario outlines guidance on medical exemptions. This includes a summary of conditions and adverse events following immunization that may qualify for a medical exemption. There are very few medical exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccination. An exemption may include an allergist/ immunologist confirmed severe allergy or anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or to any of its components that cannot be mitigated, or a diagnosed episode of myocarditis/ pericarditis after receipt of an mRNA vaccine.

Guidance for COVID-19 Vaccine Recommendations for Special Populations notes all pregnant individuals are eligible and recommended to be vaccinated as soon as possible, at any stage in pregnancy, as COVID-19 infection during pregnancy can be severe. Please see also this fact sheet

• For more information, speak to your healthcare provider. Please note, your healthcare provider may refer you to a specialist, such as an allergist/ immunologist, to obtain a medical exemption.

Physicians and nurse practitioners are qualified to issue vaccine exemptions. Lambton Public health does not issue letters/notes for vaccine exemptions.
 
Please note: The COVID-19 vaccination is not part of the Immunization of School Pupils Act and therefore, students do not require a statement of medical exemption or conscience/religious belief to attend school without the COVID-19 vaccination.

What lunch/break room measures do employees need to follow?

Under the Reopening Ontario Act, every person who performs work for the business and whose mask or face covering is temporarily removed to consume food or drink must be separated from every other person by a distance of at least two metres; or plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier.
 
This applies both within the workplace and lunchroom and outside of the workplace. The regulations outlined in the Reopening Ontario Act continue to apply to people who have been vaccinated.

Reference: O. Reg 364/20: Schedule 1 Section 2 (5.1)

Resources to support a safe break:
Break Poster – Government of Ontario
Lunch Poster – Government of Ontario

Where can I learn more about the proof of vaccination requirement?

To learn more about the proof of vaccination requirement, effective September 22, 2021 please refer to:
FAQ: Using your Vaccination Receipt
Questions and Answers: Proof of Vaccine Requirement
Proof of Vaccination Guidance for Businesses and Organizations 
Ministry of Health Contact Form
FAQ: New Requirement for Proof of Vaccination in Certain Settings