Essex still working on finalizing COVID-19 staff vaccination policy

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The Town of Essex is still working on finalizing a staff COVID-19 vaccination policy after it was deferred last week.

Council opted to send the policy back to administration over questions related to testing and whether or not an unvaccinated employee could be fired.

An updated policy was presented to council at a special meeting Tuesday

It states unvaccinated employees must take part in testing twice a week — if they refuse, they'll be placed on unpaid leave, but will not be terminated.

Councillor Steve Bjorkman says municipalities shouldn't be burdened with putting a policy together.

"The reason we're having to do this is a lack of leadership from the province. I don't know how it gets ever became our responsibility to come up with these plans that should be uniform throughout the province, but we do need to ensure that our workers have a safe workplace," he said.

Councillor Sherry Bondy is applauding administration for drafting a pair policy.

"I'm not going to lie and sugarcoat anything that this is probably the hardest vote I've had in my term on council. I'm so impressed with our staff right now," she continued. "You guys are knocking it out of the park as best as you can with something that you know is contentious no matter how you slice it."

CAO Doug Sweet says the town doesn't want to fire anyone over vaccinations.

"Our intent as administration, we have great staff, we developed the policy with our staff in mind that we didn't want to force anything on them. Something we feel we'd have to do what's in their best interest. We don't want to lose any staff. So our goal is not to terminate anybody. We'll do what we can to keep all our staff," Sweet said.

As it stands now, unvaccinated employees are responsible for purchasing their own tests, but the town is working on securing kits to provide testing free of charge.

Council will vote on the finalized policy at its next regular meeting on October 18.

Essex is the only municipality in Windsor-Essex without a COVID-19 staff vaccination policy in place.