5 Important Ideas: Vaccines in the Workplace

5 Important Ideas: Vaccines in the Workplace

18 months ago, it might have been reasonable to think that the COVID-19 pandemic would last a few weeks (or months at most!). Also, we might have hoped that by staying indoors we would be able to get back to our normal lives shortly thereafter. 

We’ve come a long way and our definition of ‘normal’ has certainly changed. We now see that COVID-19 will impact the business decisions we make well into 2022 – and for who knows how long beyond that. Right now, companies of all sizes are wrestling with how to safely return their employees to the workplace – or whether to do so at all. 

There are no easy answers. News about the virus keeps changing, and employers – from multinational corporations to the federal and provincial governments – have rolled out policies that, while appearing firm today, may need an update tomorrow. 

Given all the change and uncertainty, our outsourced HR professionals compiled 5 key ideas that will help you navigate the uncharted terrain ahead.

covid vaccine and syringe
  1. Survey Your Team

We recently looked at the power of employee surveys as a tool to better understanding your team. They can be especially beneficial here, when many of your employees will be understandably nervous or concerned by a barrage of sometimes-conflicting news reports. Some employees may be ready to get out into the world and back into the office, while others will have understandable reservations. 

Survey your team members, and do so anonymously. Ask them how they feel, and where their comfort level is with returning to the workplace on either a full time or hybrid basis. Those answers should inform how you draft your policies and your return to work schedule. If a large percentage of your team is ready to return, start looking at a gradual return based on the advice of public health authorities in your area. If your employees are uniformly not ready to go back, you will need to look at options that jointly address their comfort and your business needs.

“There are certainly softer and more compassionate approaches available, such as permanent work from home or rigourous testing policies.”

woman standing up in front of colleagues during meeting and showing papers

2. Draft Your Policies Carefully

You’ve likely seen the news about some of the biggest employers instituting ‘mandatory’ vaccination policies. This is often misinterpreted as ‘forced’ vaccination policies, but there are important differences and you may want (or need) to clear the air with your team.

First, any mandatory vaccination policy must take into account the same human rights exemptions as any other workplace policy. The Province of Ontario recently launched firm guidelines as to who would qualify for a medically-based vaccine exemption, and naturally any discrimination for such an exemption is forbidden. Employees may also seek an exemption to such a vaccine policy for religious reasons, which – if granted – would be similarly valid and protected from discrimination.

The other question that will come up in drafting a vaccine policy is what to do with those employees who are unwilling to take the vaccine without a governmentally-validated exemption? Remember that mandatory vaccines do not mean ‘forced’ vaccines; no one can legally hold you down and jab you with a needle. 

Employers are in a tough spot as they decide how to handle their unvaccinated workers. In the extreme, it is true of most employees in Ontario that their employment can be terminated at any time – and for any reason – so long as they are paid severance. That said, there are certainly softer and more compassionate approaches available, such as permanent work from home setups or rigourous testing policies. This also allows flexibility for grey areas and cases not covered by our Human Rights Code but that could still merit accommodation. 

woman in collared shirt

3. Rights to Privacy

As an employer, the best advice for talking about vaccinations while in the workplace is to be very careful. A person’s vaccination status is private medical information, and employers have a duty not to disclose that to others. So even though it’s become a popular topic of conversation within most of our families and social circles, discussing vaccination status in a workplace can accidentally reveal information about an individual that by all rights should remain private.

Keep your employees’ vaccination status as private and discreet as possible, and strongly encourage them to do the same. Workplaces that have been promoting in advertisements that their teams are fully vaccinated may be well-intentioned, but unless they’ve received permission, they are unknowingly violating their employees’ right to privacy. Do not encourage discussions around sharing everyone’s vaccination status, and remind colleagues why doing so can be problematic. 

crop woman in mask passing through turnstile in metro

4. Vaccine Records are not the New Employee Swipe Card

Just as there is no truly mandatory vaccination policy, there is no mandatory unveiling of vaccination status by requiring a record of vaccination to enter the workplace. Ontario does have upcoming regulations for entering some spaces on September 22, 2021, but an individual’s medical information is still private – and they can always opt not to enter. 

As a matter of policy, we recommend that employees should not be made to show their vaccine record to enter the workplace through a check-point. There is just too much potential for revealing private information (however inadvertent) and even discrimination. There are other ways to verify entrance eligibility that will reduce risk and observe the right to privacy.

pile of white and black boxes

5. Accommodations are not One-Size-Fits-All

Think about how you plan to accommodate employees that are exempt from vaccinations. Will they be allowed to work from home permanently, or will they be allowed back into the workplace but subjected to regular testing? Will accommodations be available to those who are unwilling to take the shot, or will you be terminating those employees? Remember that the former group cannot be terminated for their exemption, but the latter group can while following regular applicable laws.

Working from home may be a reasonable accommodation in some situations, but moving some employees to a permanent work from home while making others return full-time may appear arbitrary to employees and can quickly breed resentment if not handled carefully. A carefully-crafted accommodation policy can help avoid these pitfalls, and a strategic review of the business will help determine exactly which employees are needed physically in the office and when. 


If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is! We have never dealt with such a widespread pandemic in this age of technology, and advice can change frequently under new legislation and changes in public health directives. 

Whatever happens though, our team is here to help. Our outsourced HR consultants serve as your fractional HR team, and can help guide you through this difficult terrain. Take a look at our calendar below to schedule time for an initial consultation. 

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4 Steps to Harness the Power of Employee Surveys

4 Steps to Harness the Power of Employee Surveys

Make no mistake – your employees are talking. They’re speaking with each other after hours, behind closed doors, on private message threads, and during weekend hangouts. They’re sharing with each other their individual perspective on some things your business is doing right, and everything that they think your business is doing wrong.

As an employer, wouldn’t it be nice to know what they’re saying? You want to know what’s working, and what could be better. Unhappy employees means lost productivity and spikes in turnover costs. But unless you provide a channel for honest communication direct to your leadership team, they’ll probably just keep talking to each other.

Enter the survey. It’s not a revolutionary tool, but when you do these 4 steps you’ll get great results.

woman wearing teal dress sitting on chair talking to man
Photo by Jopwell on Pexels.com
  1. Understand the Why, the When, and the How

Why: Think of a workplace survey like a doctor’s check-up for your team. While you may not think of going to the doctor if you don’t feel that anything is wrong, you truly never know what is happening beneath the surface. Regular medical check-ups can catch the beginnings of serious problems and allow you to take action before a problem spirals out of control.

The same is true of employee surveys.

Employee surveys are where you can truly get a sense of your employees’ happiness and their level of satisfaction with the company. 

When: Numerous large organizations with thousands of workers routinely run at least an annual survey, wherein employees are questioned about their level of job satisfaction and even their likelihood of recommending the workplace for other applicants. Smaller teams have even more flexibility, and can easily do routine surveys (twice a year, or even quarterly) to gauge employee satisfaction and measure the improvement over each interval. 

How: Employee surveys should always be conducted anonymously. Just as you feel comfortable discussing your private medical concerns with a doctor because you’re assured of their discretion, employees should feel comfortable discussing their concerns about the workplace without fear of public exposure and humiliation. While some of the feedback may be a tough pill to swallow, it’s important that your team has a confidential outlet to voice their honest opinions. 

Employees can often be wary of surveys, and this is mainly for two reasons. The first is the concern about anonymity. Even if you promise confidentiality, there may still be some team members who will worry about being ‘discovered’ and penalized for providing honest feedback. The surprise for most employers is that negative – and even positive – feedback, does not always come from the places that you would expect. The employees who appear to be the most ‘happy-go-lucky’ may be the most comfortable expressing their frustrations anonymously, and the quietest employees may actually be the most satisfied.

“As an employer, the most important thing you can do with a survey is take it seriously. Set an action plan that responds to the feedback received, both positive and negative.”

white paper with note

2. Make an Action Plan and Communicate It

Some employees have given feedback before, only to see nothing come of it. They may have come from a workplace that routinely did a workplace engagement survey, but never actioned any of the concerns employees raised during the process. Without solid action that the team knows about, surveys will quickly lose their power. After all, how many times would you be willing to give your opinion when you know it won’t be counted?

As an employer, the most important thing that you can do with an employee survey is take it seriously. Set an action plan that responds to the feedback received, both positive and negative. Discuss the feedback received with senior leadership, and review what changes and improvements in process and facilities may be required. 

Then, share your plan with the team. This reinforces that they have been heard and that their voices count. It also creates a layer of accountability for leadership to complete the forecasted changes.

Employees will not expect everything to change overnight, and they will be far more receptive to the process when they can see the road ahead.

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3. Start Somewhere. (E.g. “Return to Office“)

If you like the idea of conducting a survey but are unsure where to start, try asking employees about their thoughts on returning to the office. We recently wrote about how to return to the office successfully and offered employers some helpful tips and tricks. Even if you’ve already begun sketching out your plans for a large-scale return, a short anonymous email survey can tell you honestly if your employees are excited, reluctant, or even hesitant about the idea. 

Create some multiple choice questions and short-answer ones, so you can gather quantifiable data and also let your team communicate on their terms. Multiple choice questions will show you some great data slices like what percentage of the time your team would feel comfortable returning to the office, and when. Short-answers will give people the chance to express their ideas more fully, including on topics you could not have predicted.

Data from this survey is instrumental for guiding your return to office strategy. If you envision a full return in the coming weeks and then learn that your employees are still hesitant to be working indoors, you’re effectively setting your team up for an unhappy experience. Instead, make sure employees know that you are listening to their concerns and that you are making best efforts to build in flexibility while maintaining a safe and productive workplace – wherever that may be. 

round silver colored chronograph watch
  1. Set – and stick to! – a Cadence for Surveys

With our clients, we always recommend running employee engagement surveys at least every 6 months. For us, they’re as helpful as a doctor taking your temperature or blood pressure. Quantifiable data points over time show us trends in progress and opportunities alike. 

The combination of a regular schedule and visible results empower employees to open up, and often they report emerging issues that can be addressed before they become something bigger.

This is the power of the survey.

Our team of fractional HR professionals routinely helps our clients run surveys effectively, and develop a strategy for how to implement the resulting feedback. As outsourced HR, our arm’s length approach allows us to really look inward, and help you assess what may need changing, and when those changes should be a priority. We love nothing more than seeing employee satisfaction scores climb year over year, since at the end of the day we’re only as happy as our clients, and they are only as happy as their team members. Contact us today to set up a consultation and to learn more about how we can help.

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