Creating a Vaccination Policy

Key Decisions When Creating a Vaccination Policy

HR @ Your Service

As a human resource consulting practice, our HR @ Your Service team has been fielding many questions from organizations that are considering a vaccination policy for their staff. As these organizations reopen in some form, whether fully or partially, whether to create a vaccination policy is a question that can be rather daunting (even for HR!).

There is no cookie-cutter approach to designing a policy as no two organizations are alike. However, it is clear that these policies should be aligned with legislation and reflect the organization’s needs. Ultimately, the policy should state the reason for its existence, list accompanying procedures, and be easy for employees to follow — even if they are not happy or disagree with it.

Involving employees in drafting a policy may be best practice but that can open employers up to a range of opinions and potentially heated arguments. So, while some consultation may be wise, the policy should be carefully planned with a level of compassion and respect for the varying opinions. Those who can lend their wisdom include health and safety committees, operational representatives, individuals with customer lines of sight, and union representatives.

Reviewing literature surrounding this topic reveals the following key considerations when introducing a vaccination policy:

The safety risk involved with having unvaccinated employees at work

Under the safety legislation across provinces, employers are responsible for the safety of their employees. The pandemic has shown employers that they need to pay attention. Early on, safety protocols revolved around distancing, masking, hygiene, and managing outbreaks. With vaccines now fully available, employers are looking at how this tool can sharpen their approach to safety.

As with any safety policy consideration, employers need to consider the risk factors to their stakeholders. This includes the characteristics of customers and employees, such as vulnerable populations, as well as the type and length of contact to provide service. Identifying risk factors provides a basis for the type of policy required.

Employers should consider whether they can mitigate the risks involved in implementing a vaccination policy. One way to mitigate risks is to require vaccination, other ways include requiring regular testing and continued use of personal protective equipment, remote working, or modified shifts.

Applicable legislation that governs the business

The Federal Government has mandated vaccination for all employees who are federally regulated including air, rail, and marine transportation sectors. This is not a choice for employees. Other industries such as health care, education, and childcare workers have been provincially directed.

With these employers moving ahead with vaccination policies, there is also movement in other industries such as construction, banks, and professional services.

This does lead smaller businesses to wonder whether to jump on board with a full vaccination policy or whether they can sustain employees who have chosen not to vaccinate. The concerns range from the ability to enforce the chosen policy and the costs that may be incurred to accommodate employees who are choosing not to vaccinate, whether it is a personal choice or for a reason such as a health condition or religion. 

Selecting the right vaccination policy for your organization

Once an organization determines that a vaccination policy is their best course of action, there is a range of policies that businesses can choose from:

  • Full vaccination required of all staff without exceptions (rare and not usually recommended as this is the highest risk scenario since it does not allow for accommodations where acceptable).
  • Full vaccination required with exemptions and accommodations only provided in the cases related to protected grounds under the Human Rights Legislation of the applicable province (usually this would relate to a disability or religious ground).
  • Full vaccination required with exemptions and accommodations provided in the cases related to protected grounds under the Human Rights Legislation of the applicable province and for those who do not wish to have the vaccine for various other reasons.

The decision on which policy to create will be based on the considerations noted above. Consulting with safety experts and a lawyer is not uncommon as there are certainly arguments being made related to privacy and personal freedoms. Until cases have been tried in court and precedents have been set, there is a level of risk in these decisions.

Finally, consider what to include in a vaccination policy. Key elements to consider are:

  1. If it is a mandatory vaccination policy, what is the timeline for employees to comply?  How are they to show compliance — through self-declaration or by showing proof of vaccination?
  2. Access to employees’ vaccination status, and any associated medical information, should be limited based on the governing privacy legislation. Only those required to know an employee’s vaccination status should have access to the information and only for as long as the information is required.
  3. The necessity of the policy will dictate the type of policy required. Outlining the reasons for the policy should be noted for employees. Those who are vaccine-hesitant will want to know why it is required and any alternatives for accommodation.
  4. If employees are accommodated for any reason, make it clear what the protocols are for each case, as an employer would for any situation of accommodation. These plans are often individually based and will range from accommodation at home, to PPE protocols in the workplace.
  5. Provide a venue for continual review and updating as the pandemic is an ever-evolving situation. Ensure that updates are made when there are new requirements such as booster shots or new and acceptable treatments.
  6. Ensure employees understand the consequences of not adhering to the policy and who in the organization they can share any concerns with. Stay respectful of these concerns and ensure that communication lines are open.

With many organizations keen to open their doors to employees again comes the decision of requiring employees to be vaccinated or not. Consider the above recommendations as the return to the office is planned and ensure that your stakeholders have been consulted. This will confirm that a thoughtful and considerate approach is taken.

Finally, plan to be flexible. If there’s one thing we’ve learned to be certain with this pandemic, it is that change is just around the corner.

Wanda Loewen
Manager, HR @ Your Service

Wanda has been in Human Resources for over 25 years and has experience in a variety of industries including manufacturing, healthcare, financial and property management.  She enjoys developing initiatives that help organizations drive their employee experience forward in areas such as engagement, total rewards, talent acquisition, performance management, learning, HR technology, compensation and operational excellence.