Hospitals would be 'negligent' to not have a strict vaccine policy: employment lawyer

A Canadian employment lawyer says hospitals have the power to and should enforce a strict vaccine policy for its workers, to protect against COVID-19.

“It is negligent not to make it a term of employment,” says Howard Levitt of Levitt Sheikh LLP. “I think its a no-brainer, to use a non-legal expression. It’s really clear that it’s negligent for a hospital not to require it (mandatory vaccine policy).”

Levitt says since hospitals and the public sector started announcing mandatory vaccine policies, he gets between three and four calls from potential clients every day, seeking to find out what their options are.

“I’m telling you in a hospital sector there’s no real defence,” he says.

Levitt says even staff who don’t have direct contact with sick patients, just working in a hospital will likely require most employees to get a vaccine or face discipline.

“In a hospital, there’s no question at all, because people are inherently vulnerable, they’re already ill, they’re already immuno-compromised in some way or another which is why they are in hospital,” says Levitt.

On Sept. 3, the five hospitals in the Erie St Clair region announced a joint policy change, requiring all employees, credentialed staff and volunteers to be fully immunized against COVID-19.

Those who chose not to, could be put on unpaid leave or dismissed from their position.

No deadline has yet been set for when the policy would take effect.

The hospitals say staff will be exempted if they have an accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code, or if they cannot be inoculated for a medical reason.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) represent hospital workers in Erie St Clair.

Spokespeople for both unions tell CTV News they believe in the value of vaccines and are encouraging members to get a shot.

However, they also say they have a duty to protect their unvaccinated members from dismissal, over a personal choice.

“Dr (Kieran) Moore, who is our Chief Medical Officer of Health (for Ontario) gave direction to the employers,” says Vicki McKenna, president of ONA. “And the employers, as you well know, have gone beyond.”

McKenna believes the directive to require staff to either get a shot, or submit to routine testing should be given more weight instead of a mandatory policy.

“We don’t believe employers should be penalizing and terminating nurses at a time when we need them the most,” says McKenna.

Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions for CUPE agrees and he too believes more of an emphasis should be put on testing and job reassignment for unvaccinated workers.

Hurley also believes employers need to give staff time and access to qualified medical professionals to answer any and all of their questions around vaccine hesitancy.

The union leaders fear the mandatory policy will force too many staff out of the healthcare system, which is in dire straits.

“The hospitals in Ontario have the fewest staff to patients and the fewest beds available of any healthcare system in the world with a developed economy,” says Hurley. “So the risk of losing staff in great numbers has to be a worry for all of us.”

Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj says 94 per cent of his staff are now fully vaccinated.

He recognizes that it is much highly than the general public, but he is hopeful the policy will boost their number much closer to 100 per cent.

If some choose not to, he says “that’s their choice and they will have their employment terminated and or their privileges terminated.”

Musyj says those staff members would likely find it difficult to find a new job in a hospital setting.

“If you look at London, in the central region, in the GTA, they don’t have opportunities available,” says Musyj. “The Community Care Access Centre announced yesterday (Thursday Sept. 2) they’re moving to this and the hospitals in the United States are moving to this (mandatory vaccine policies).”