Expert Advice of the Month: Managing staff expectations as vaccines are mandated

This month we talk with Walter Pranke, vice president, human resources, at Lee Valley Tools, a national chain of tool and gift stores headquartered in Ottawa.

What are the rules surrounding a business’s ability to mandate vaccines among employees? Are there any rules? According to Walter Pranke, who heads up HR for Lee Valley Tools, the province of Ontario has laid out guidelines regarding vaccination and whether employers have a right to access status for certification.

“They clarify that, yes, an employer can do that and it’s not seen as a requirement for accommodation unless for medical reasons,” Pranke says. Those medical reasons are very narrow, he adds, so legitimate medical exemptions will not be easy to come by. “This has given employers real confidence that they can ask without repercussions.”

The Ontario Human Rights Board tends to lead the way on policy, says Pranke, so he expects other provinces to follow suit. This will be important because as much as one-fifth of the population has yet to be vaccinated in Canada.

“So for us, how do we manage that situation? Do we bring people back to work?” Pranke says that figuring out the needs at head office is one thing, but not so clear-cut for staff in the stores who may have to face an unvaccinated population.

“How do we protect them?” Pranke asks. “If a store has 20 percent of its population that is not vaccinated, what’s the risk?”

He says a strong policy not only provides clear assurances to existing staff who are coming back to work but also offers a sense of security to potential new hires. “So that’s where we can really change the comfort levels and also help people who are feeling uncomfortable coming back to work.”

To safely and fairly accommodate workers who have not received the vaccine, tests must be administered every 72 hours or roughly every second or third day. Companies cannot discriminate against non-vaccinated individuals, so the company must pay for the testing.