NORTH PERTH – With the adoption of a corporate vaccination policy on Sept. 27, North Perth moved one step closer to a return to in-person council meetings.
At its Aug. 23 meeting, council requested staff prepare a report on a corporate vaccination policy.
The municipality has an obligation under provincial legislation to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of its workforce and members of the public from the hazard of COVID-19.
A key element to ensuring this protection is a program requiring that all employees, members of council and committees, volunteers and contractors attending a municipal workplace are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or regularly tested.
In August, the Ontario government announced mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for high-risk settings including licensed child care facilities. Effective Sept. 7, North Perth’s Children Service’s department implemented a COVID-19 Immunization Declaration Policy for all staff within that department. The mandatory policy requirements included implementing a vaccination status verification process, an exemption request procedure on medical or human rights grounds and a testing protocol using rapid antigen testing for unvaccinated staff.
Also, under the recent advice of Huron-Perth Public Health, all employers are encouraged to be proactive and consider mandating a vaccination policy for all of their employees.
The Human Resources Committee discussed the COVID-19 vaccination policy at its Sept. 13 meeting and after completing a legal review, it was recommended to council on Sept. 27.
“We are required… to provide as safe a workplace as possible and the policy complies with all applicable public and health and safety, human rights, privacy and other pertinent laws,” said CAO Kriss Snell.
Coun. Neil Anstett raised a concern about the clarity of the COVID-19 vaccination declination process in the policy.
“If a staff member decides to sign the declination form they are telling us they are choosing not to be vaccinated and they haven’t brought forward a medical exemption or a human rights exemption,” said Jenn Robinson, human resources team lead. “The employee would then need to submit to rapid antigen testing… for them to be considered safe to be in the workplace and they would need to submit to that testing every week.”
She also said there would be additional health and safety measures put in place for unvaccinated staff, such as increased masking and they would need to complete an education session on the pros and cons of vaccination.
“We expect the policy to be unfolded more into plain language for staff to understand the process that may result of their choices under the vaccination declaration policy,” said Snell.
Coun. Allan Rothwell said his understanding of the policy, would leave employees and council members who sign the declination form to be tested at their own expense.
“We end up having two categories of employees,” said Robinson. “Exempt ones and ones that are choosing not to vaccinate but aren’t exempt. Exempt staff would be a medical reason or a human rights reason and then on the other side of the spectrum we have staff that are choosing not to vaccinate. So, for staff who are exempt, we propose that we would cover the cost of those antigen tests and staff who are not exempt, if we cannot source them for free (they) would then be required to pick up the cost of them.”
“One further question that deals with an earlier request of council regarding our reconvening of in-person meetings,” said Rothwell. “I take it this policy was one of the reasons why we delayed in-person until we had this. Is that correct?”
Snell said policy for a return to regular council meetings has been prepared but some of that policy was contingent on whether the vaccination policy passed or not.
“We’ll have the return to council policy probably at the next meeting or the one after that,” he said.
Mayor Todd Kasenberg asked for clarity on what would happen to an employee who files the declination form but does not comply with the rapid testing procedure.
Robinson directed council’s attention to a clause in the policy that stated, “Failure to comply with this policy may result in lost, unpaid shifts and disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment/contract for cause.”
“So if someone is not complying with the policy, for instance, not submitting to rapid testing, they will lose shifts and not be coming to work,” she said.
“Just further to that, we would certainly then instigate our disciplinary policy,” said Snell. “Just like we would for any staff who do not adhere to policy, which has a tiered approach to discipline. Often that would include… suspensions and potential termination.”
Council unanimously adopted the vaccination policy with a start date effective Sept. 28.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner