No shot, no shoes, no service?
As Ontario prepares for Step 3 of its reopening on Friday, vaccination status will be top of mind for employers, employees and the Torontonians who frequent their establishments. Some businesses may be wondering if they can compel their workers to get vaccinated; employees may not be fully aware of their rights; and consumers may be unsure if they can enter a business and demand to know whether employees are vaccinated.
In the case of Filmores Gentleman’s Club, the iconic Toronto strip club will be advertising its bared arms.
The establishment has declared all of its staff have received double vaccinations, and it will be requiring customers to declare the same before being allowed in when it reopens Friday. (Staff will still be wearing masks, while patrons will be required to do so upon entry.)
Kasper Cameron, manager at Filmores, said they decided to introduce the policy because he believes the strip club industry is already subject to unfair scrutiny, so they wanted to go beyond what is already required. He said there will be mandatory contact tracing at the door and they will be using the honour system to ask potential customers if they’ve been immunized.
“Our primary concern is safety and to allow people to get back as normal as possible, and this is the only safe avenue that we are aware of at this time … Our business model is based on being social, so it just made sense for us to go down this road,” Cameron said.
While some businesses have received backlash for offering promotions or discounts to vaccinated customers, a new poll indicates the majority of consumers are more likely to support a business that ensures its staff and clients are fully vaccinated.
When it comes to the workplace, the short answer is there is no specific law allowing employers to force employees to get vaccinated, nor is there a requirement for employees to disclose their vaccination status, though that comes with a catch, said Adam LaRoche, an employment, labour and privacy lawyer in Calgary.
Occupational health and safety legislation in all provinces does require employers to maintain a safe workplace, so an employer could reasonably argue that they require their employees to disclose their vaccination status if they can show how not doing so would affect workplace safety, LaRoche said.
“Compelling an employee to disclose their vaccination status may be reasonable in some workplaces. I think anywhere that you’ve seen a documented outbreak or whether there’s an established kind of issue of managing COVID in a given industry, you have a good argument,” LaRoche said, using long-term-care homes, meat-packing facilities and potentially even restaurants as examples.
On the flip side, the argument would be weaker in an office environment, if employees are not constantly interacting with each other and the public.
Employees are not obligated to disclose their vaccination status to their employers. But employers are also not obligated to keep them on staff if they believe they’ll contribute to an unsafe workplace.
“If you are in breach of that policy as an employee, and you don’t have a human rights ground … like a legitimate religious belief or a legitimate medical condition, then it would be open to the employer to institute progressive discipline against you and eventually terminate your employment,” LaRoche said.
Another consideration for employers is privacy. If they want to advertise their establishment as a zone where everyone is vaccinated, they must also have consent from individual employees to release their vaccination status publicly.
Refusing service to customers who don’t want to disclose their immunization status is ultimately at the business’s discretion, but that also comes with hurdles — the refusal could be subject to a legal challenge.
“You’re going to see more businesses who are going to be taking a proactive approach, either disclosing employee vaccination status or requiring customers to affirm or prove that they are also fully vaccinated. And the ability of businesses to do that is still subject to privacy and human rights law,” LaRoche said, adding that it depends on the nature of the business, the number of customers and the risk of transmission.
Some businesses have taken to offering promotions or free entry to people who can prove they’ve been immunized, while others have decided to tout the fact that their employees are fully vaccinated.
It doesn’t always go as planned. In May, the Globe and Mail reported that a Boston Pizza location in Toronto was ordered by head office to stop offering a 15 per cent discount to patrons who have been vaccinated, while a Toronto gym repealed its policy requiring members to be vaccinated, due to backlash.
But Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research Associates, says it’s a small, vocal minority who are airing their grievances to these businesses.
According to an online poll he conducted, a majority of Canadians are more likely to support a business that requires both staff and clients to show proof of vaccination. A vaccine passport of some kind for travel saw strong support, with 71 per cent of respondents supporting proof of vaccination to travel.
When it comes to gatherings such as concerts or sporting events, support is still strong, with 66 per cent in support. When it comes to how a vaccine passport would affect consumer choice, more respondents said they would be more likely to purchase products or services if a business required everyone to show vaccination status.
For the item that saw the least support, which was meals at indoor restaurants, 49 per cent of respondents said they would be more likely to support the restaurant if it required proof of vaccination, compared to 16 per cent who said they would be less likely.
Graves said while he knows there are still people who react angrily when they are told what to do, he believes there’s a strong economic incentive for businesses to require proof of vaccination.
“If you actually let the market do its job, unless my consumer data is way off and I don’t think (it is), you’d be better served by sticking to your guns … giving incentives to those who want to behave responsibly. And I think there’s also a clear business case for it.”
IF YOU HAVE TO ASK …
Ontario’s economic reopening raises a lot of questions for businesses, employees and consumers, but as we return to normality, many people will also be dreading the moment when they must ask their anti-vaccination uncle if he’s received the shot before the next Thanksgiving gathering.
Dionne Gesink, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health, says when it comes to broaching these conversations, however awkward, it’s important we are sensitive and non-judgmental.
“We want to be mindful about why we’re approaching conversations around vaccination. Is it out of genuine curiosity and not coming from a place of judgment? And curiosity in terms of … is there is a safety aspect to it when people are trying to figure this out, because they’re trying to evaluate their own risk?” Gesink said.
“We do have to start developing some judgment around how appropriate it is to ask the question. You don’t want to ask your Uber driver if they’ve been vaccinated — just assume that they have not, and take precautions to protect yourself.”