Dufferin County vaccine policy includes unpaid suspension before firing

·4 min read

Dufferin Council changed course to add a final six-week unpaid suspension, instead of a straight “vaccinate or terminate" approach in its final version of its COVID-19 vaccination policy.

Much of the direction remains the same as that given after county council’s closed door meeting earlier in October.

By Nov. 1, all staff were to disclose their vaccination status and proof.

Those unvaccinated are attending mandatory education session; and do mandatory rapid antigen testing beginning Nov. 8 (with the cost paid by county).

But rather than losing their jobs on Dec. 31, they will first be suspended without pay for six weeks, according to the change made before adoption.

CONSTANT CHANGE

Councillors chose to “soften” the policy by adding the suspension, commenting that this would both allow more time for employees to come around, and also allow for further developments in COVID and in public policy.

Several referred to recent changes made in Ontario to increase capacity limits.

Dufferin Warden Darren White called for some more discussion and “sober second thought. He criticized the changes in the lead by provincial and federal officials.

“We’re experiencing – I think I’ll call it a complete void of leadership from upper tiers,” when it comes to consistency of policy, he said..

“Every day there’s a different decision … This morning, there was talk about the vaccine passports and whether they will be mandatory or not mandatory.

When Dufferin Council set out on its journey to a policy it was thinking of a more moderate policy allowing for unvaccinated employees to keep working with antigen testing, after vaccine education.

However, after their closed-door session on legal risks, staff were asked for a policy requiring full vaccination of all employees by the end of this year, with exceptions only for those with medical or human rights code exemptions.

But the Dufferin Warden opened the discussion last Thursday by saying he had second thoughts about the vaccine policy presenting what he called an “end of the road scenario, he said.

“We had the possibility to destroy somebody’s career, to substantially change somebody’s life.

Shelburne Deputy-Mayor Steve Anderson countered that those who have died of COVID actually have had their lives destroyed.

“Yes this is firm, yes it’s aggressive, but it has to be – because we’re talking about people’s lives.”

He said he was open to seeing what people think of as striking the right balance, but he stood by the policy with termination.

“When we took on these positions, we have to make difficult decisions and we’re making one – I hope.”

EFFECTS IN WORKPLACE

The Warden pointed out that as yet, the percentage in different parts of the workplace is unknown. A staff report listed possible effects in different work settings.

The policy covers non-union staff. Dufferin Oaks is covered by a separate agreement. Members of council will also be covered by a separate policy.

In that policy, the unvaccinated councillors would not be able to enter County buildings. The policy also provides for other “consequences” for non-compliance to be considered by Council.

John Creelman, mayor of Mono, gave notice he would be bringing a motion that unvaccinated members of county council have their pay docked. He said it would be equitable, considering what was expected of employees, and given that councillors cannot be fired.

The pandemic has already caused “considerable strain” on human resource employees at the county and increased their work loads, an earlier staff report said. This policy will have a further impact. That could slow down the recruiting and other work that will be needed due to the policy itself.

Management has decided to have its third-party ability claims firm work on checking vaccination status, exemptions and provide the vaccine education.

The cost of testing, and then the cost to end employment can’t be estimated until the numbers are confirmed, so staff will provide further updates.

Other measures continue for everyone, including workplace screening, wearing a mask or face covering, and social distancing.

DUFFERIN COUNTY

- The staff report said that vaccination rates among those are over 90 percent in some municipalities for first dose – Grand Valley is at 95 percent;

-Overall in the health unit at the time of the report 88 percent of those eligible had their first dose and 84 percent are fully vaccinated.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald

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