Will vaccine passports be implemented in the workplace? It's complicated, experts say

Montreal's downtown office buildings remain largely empty, with more than half of office workers still working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic — a reality which can be hard on businesses in the area, according to Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM).

"There is a return, very slowly, [but] not enough people to sustain the ecosystem of downtown restaurants and fast food joints,” he says.

To help facilitate a quicker return to the office amidst a fourth wave of infections, there are calls for more businesses to adopt vaccine mandates for employees.

A new survey from the CCMM found that 70 per cent of workers would be uncomfortable working with unvaccinated colleagues, and 50 per cent would likely not return to work without knowing their co-workers' vaccine status.

"There's the employees demanding it, and there's companies wanting to reassure employees and clients that it's a safe environment. So I think right now, it's a very strong consensus in the business community that the vaccine passport is a tool that should be used," says Leblanc.

On Wednesday the premier reiterated that the decision to make vaccines mandatory will be left to each individual company.

“it’s up to employers,” he said at a press event.

But according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB), a lack of clear guidance from the government puts many small businesses in a difficult position.

"They are really concerned about the legal risk,” says vice president of the CFIB Quebec team Francois Vincent. “64 per cent of business owners are afraid that they could be sued if they ask for proof of vaccination."

Labour lawyer Yann Bernard says there’s “certainly a risk” that these kinds of lawsuits will happen — a situation which small businesses simply cannot afford.

"Big firms and the government are probably going to pave the way with those litigations. Hopefully, law can be established by them in front of courts. The problem is that small businesses don't have the luxury of time,” says Bernard.

Bernard recommends small businesses consult with a medical expert about whether a vaccine mandate is absolutely necessary before adopting one.

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