Air Canada announced Wednesday that it is mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all of its employees, following other airlines that have announced vaccine policies for their workers. The airline also announced that those who fail to comply or qualify for valid medical reasons may be terminated.
In a press release, it stated that all employees have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 30. It will also be a requirement for prospective employees of the company.
“Under the mandatory vaccination policy, testing will not be offered as an alternative. While Air Canada will fulfil its duties to accommodate employees who for valid reasons, such as medical conditions, cannot be vaccinated, failure to be fully vaccinated by October 30, 2021 will have consequences up to and including unpaid leave or termination, except for those who qualify for accommodation,” the release states.
“Air Canada’s policy is also in accord with a recent announcement by the Government of Canada requiring employees in the federally regulated air, rail, and marine transportation sectors to be vaccinated by the end of October 2021.”
Earlier this week, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released a framework for private businesses to implement proof-of-vaccination protocols in lieu of government mandates. MLSE venues, certain universities and companies such as Sun Life Financial Inc. and Royal Bank of Canada previously announced vaccination policies as well.
“We’re pleased to see Air Canada take leadership in mandating vaccinations for its employees,” OCC manager of public affairs Ceara Copps-Edwards said. “We’d like to see a proof-of-vaccination framework implemented by the government, but in absence of that we’re going to see businesses continue to adopt their own.”
Paul Bozek, an associate professor specializing in occupational health and safety at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said that while he encourages everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, he’s concerned that testing won’t be allowed and wonders if alternative work assignments could be given. He gives the example of his employer, the University of Toronto, which requires those who aren’t fully vaccinated or prefer not to disclose their status to present a negative test before entering campus.
Epidemiologist Colin Furness wrote in an email to the Star that he believes all flight crews need to be vaccinated, but is opposed to firing people for not getting their shots.
“It would be better to offer alternative employment in a less pleasant, and perhaps lower pay role, that does not involve contact with the public. That’s not punitive, quite the opposite: it allows people full agency to make a decision whether to get vaccinated,” he wrote. “When you force compliance, you swell the ranks of the non-compliant and anti-vaxxers, and that makes us all less safe … Given a choice, a vast majority of unvaccinated people will choose vaccination, and that will happen without the anti-vax vitriol which is so harmful to public trust.”
Still, employment lawyers say Air Canada can terminate employees for not getting vaccinated.
Hena Singh, a partner at Toronto employment law firm Singh Lamarche LLP, said the airline is justified as long as the termination doesn’t breach the Ontario Human Rights Code.
“Medical or religious reasons fall under that, and an employer has to offer accommodations as best as they can,” she said, adding that those working from home may be called to return to the workplace so there’s a reason for them to get vaccinated as well.
“It’s also advocating for the right thing and they’re doing their part,” said Singh.
Chantel Goldsmith, an employment lawyer and partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, said that since the federal government previously announced mandatory vaccinations for those in the airline industry, “employees must be vaccinated as a condition of employment. An employee’s refusal to get vaccinated to comply with the mandate would be viewed as a frustration of contract, meaning that the employment relationship can no longer continue, and they are not eligible for severance.”
Goldsmith also added that employers such as Air Canada have a legal obligation to offer reasonable options, such as rapid COVID-19 testing, to those who require accomodations due to religious or medical exemptions.
Air Canada’s announcement comes on the same day as the U.S.-based Delta Air Lines announced it will be charging unvaccinated employees $200 (U.S.) a month in their health insurance premiums starting Sept. 12, citing the costs of covering employees that have contracted the virus. Earlier in the month, United Airlines also announced mandatory vaccines for staff by the end of October or they will risk termination. The Government of Canada also announced earlier this month that vaccines will be mandatory for all travellers in the federally regulated air, rail and marine transportation sectors.
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