Are We In The Stick Stage? (OSHA Vaccine Mandate & Canada Vaccine Mandates – What Do Employer’s Need To Do Now?)

Effective November 4th, President Joe Biden will enforce a mandate that workers at U.S. companies with at least 100 employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested weekly starting Jan. 4, spurring legal challenges from Republican governors who say Biden is overstepping his authority.

Governors from Iowa and Indiana vowed to fight the new rule, immediately, arguing it infringes on individual freedom. Other states such as Arkansas and Florida are expected to join later today.

Despite growing political opposition, the delayed roll-out of the mandate offered a reprieve to many businesses facing labor shortages during the holidays. The administration also decided to push back a deadline for federal contractors to the same date. What’s more, the administration said millions of workers in healthcare facilities and nursing homes participating in the Medicare and Medicaid government healthcare programs will also need to get their shots by the same date.

In Canada, over 95% of federal public service workers are already fully vaccinated against COVID-19, bringing most of the workforce in line with a new nationwide mandate.

Employees had until last Friday to declare their vaccination status, and as of Wednesday, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat says 99.7% of the roughly 268,000 workers employed in the public service have submitted their attestations.

However, provincial mandates for healthcare workers has had mixed results. In BC, 5-10% of the workforce is on unpaid leave for not meeting a vaccine mandate deadline, while Ontario and Quebec have chosen not to implement one in fear of staffing shortages.

After 11 months of vaccine availability, it seems that both Canada and the US are at a point where they have abandoned the carrot and chosen a stick to guide us to an end to the pandemic.

Politics aside, this definitely makes the next 3-6 months a very difficult time from an HR and OHS perspective. How will you implement a program in your workplace? Are you required? What are the exceptions that can be made? Who pays for the testing if an exception is made? Will I have to pay severance? Are unvaccinated employees insurable? Can I afford this?

Of course, OSHA and the Canadian government have resources available that are there to help guide employers and safety professionals, but there are still so many compliance and implementation issues that are grey, to say the least, and will only become more opaque as we move forward – mostly due to litigation.

If you are looking for some additional guidance in the US or Canada, we have put together some insightful special reports with model policies and procedures you can implement, and that are compliant to the latest legislation.

In addition, we have pulled together employment and OHS lawyers from Littler Mendelson (US) and Overholt Law (CA) to present a Canadian and US legal briefing targeting employers and OHS professionals to give you straight, compliant, guidance and answers moving forward.

Again, all politics aside, everyone wants this pandemic to end, our businesses to grow, and all our employees to be healthy and happy. As we transition into this new stage of enforcement and accountability, the role that we play as employers and our responsibility in the battle against COVID is changing – we need to be prepared.