Back to office this fall? Canadian employers roll out back-to-work policies –

As Canada enters the delta variant-driven fourth wave, businesses are rolling out back-to-work policies with a focus on mandatory vaccinations.

London Drugs announced on Tuesday that it will introduce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for all employees, effective Nov. 1, as a condition of employment.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been an essential health-care provider, therefore we want the highest rate of safety for employees and their families,” Clint Mahlman, president and COO of London Drugs, said.

Mahlman said employees will be required to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status, but that the documentation will not be retained by London Drugs. Employees who cannot be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons will be accommodated. 

“They’ll go through rapid testing to make sure they are healthy,” he said.

Mahlman said a vast majority of London Drugs employees are already fully vaccinated, but a small proportion remains hesitant.

“It makes it more difficult to accommodate those that simply choose not to get vaccinated. For those people, we will continue to work with them toward Nov. 1,” he said.

“If they’re still unable to prove their vaccination, they’ll have to undergo ongoing rapid testing before they can report to their shifts, and we’ll do our best to make sure their hours aren’t affected, but it’s a choice and those choices have consequences.”

Companies accessing workforce’s vaccination status 

Bank of Montreal (BMO) is among five of Canada’s big banks that will make vaccines mandatory for all staff who wish to return to the office. Those who don’t comply will have to agree to regular testing. 

BMO has asked its employees to complete a survey and provide their vaccination status by Sept. 8.

“Many of our employees will return to a hybrid model of work from the office and remote. With vaccines more accessible in North America we are starting to look at return-to-work opportunities,” Paul Gammal, BMO spokesperson, said over email.

Saskatoon-based Uranium company Cameco is also in the process of collecting vaccination information from its workers, both employees and contractors, at its North American locations.

“Our goal is to have and maintain a minimum of 90 per cent of our workers fully vaccinated for COVID-19 at each of our facilities, offices and operations. When the workforce at a particular Cameco location reaches specified vaccination thresholds, certain restrictions and precautions will be lifted for fully vaccinated individuals at that location,” Jeff Hryhoriw, director of government relations and communications at Cameco Corporation, said in an email.

“Workers who remain unvaccinated, or who choose not to disclose their status, will continue to face heightened precautions and requirements.”

Hryhoriw said the corporation has engaged in campaigns encouraging workers to get vaccinated.

“Since the uranium/nuclear energy sector is federally regulated, we are also waiting to see the details of the prime minister’s statement indicating that all federal public servants and workers in federally regulated industries will need to be vaccinated,” he said. 

For workers flying to Cameco’s sites in northern Saskatchewan, the corporation has set requirements of prior testing and electronic screening depending on the location of departure and arrival. 

While Nutrien, a Saskatoon based fertilizer company, is welcoming whoever wants to return back to its Calgary office, employees will not be moving into the new River Landing Building in Saskatoon until November.  

“At this point, we are strongly encouraging employees to be vaccinated but have not mandated vaccination,” Leanne Madder, manager of public relations at Nutrien, said in an email. 

Hybrid work model becoming permanent for some companies

Staffy, a Canadian startup that offers a workforce optimization platform for the health-care sector, has also announced plans to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all workers.

“We wanted to take proactive measures to ensure the safety of the workers at the businesses we work with, the hospitals, the long term care homes, the retirements, and their patients accordingly,” Peter Faist, Staffy founder and CEO, said.

Staffy is still working on its plans for those who choose not to get vaccinated besides medical or religious reasons, and might use rapid testing even if people are double vaccinated as a safety measure.

Going forward, the startup is envisioning a hybrid work model where employees have flexibility to work remotely.

“We’re going to gradually phase in return to the office but we will not expect people to work in the office five days a week,” Faist said.

Faist says the hybrid model will be important for early stage companies like his to establish and maintain work culture, which was absent during COVID-19 while employees worked remotely.