Ontario is set to roll out it’s very own proof of vaccination system effective September 22, 2021 as announced by the government of Ontario on September 1, 2021. What exactly does this mean for businesses and employers alike? If your business is a workplace setting that is affected, are you and your employees prepared? This article will highlight some key considerations for employers with answers to some common questions to better prepare you for the implementation of this regulatory requirement.
What is a vaccine passport system?
It is simply a system to provide proof of immunization to show that a person has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be allowed access to certain non-essential services within Ontario.
What is considered “fully vaccinated”?
An individual is considered fully vaccinated once they have received the full series of a COVID-19 vaccine or a combination of COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada. The vaccine series must have been completed at least 14 days prior.
Which businesses must comply with the new requirement?
- Restaurants and bars (excluding outdoor patios, as well as delivery and takeout);
- Nightclubs (including outdoor areas);
- Meeting and event spaces (i.e. banquet halls, conference/convention centres);
- Sports and fitness facilities and gyms, with the exception of youth recreational sport;
- Sporting events;
- Casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments;
- Concerts, music festivals, theatres and cinemas;
- Strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs;
- Racing venues (e.g., horse racing);
- Indoor areas of waterparks;
- Areas of commercial TV, where studio audiences will be treated as patrons who have to be fully vaccinated.
As of the date of this blog, retail, malls, personal care services (hair/nail salons), and essential services such as grocery stores and health care settings are not included and so, no proof of vaccination is required to access these settings/services.
How does it work?
Effective September 22 to October 21, 2021 (Phase 1), affected businesses must require customers to prove that they have been fully vaccinated by showing a vaccine receipt (PDF can be downloaded to smartphone or can be printed) along with a piece of government ID before they can gain entry to the premises. Some of the information businesses need to check for:
- Match the name and date of birth on the vaccine receipt with a government issued photo ID
- Verify where the receipt was issued
- Confirm that the individual is fully vaccinated
- Verify that the date of the final shot is at least 14 days ago
As of October 22 (Phase 2), the vaccine receipt will be replaced by a digital certificate system with a QR code which will need to be downloaded individually and verified through a provincially authorized app. More details will be released by the government closer to October 22.
For those who wish not to disclose their vaccination status, what happens?
Those individuals would be considered unvaccinated and will not be allowed admission into settings where a vaccine passport is required.
- Children aged 11 and under who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
- Individuals with medical exemptions will be permitted entry with a doctor’s note to support they have a valid medical reason for not getting vaccinated.
- To attend a wedding or funeral service and not attending the associated social gathering (i.e. reception) that is in a meeting or event space
- An individual entering an indoor establishment solely for any of the following reasons:
- To use the washroom
- To access an outdoor area that can only be accessed through an indoor route
- To pay for an order
- To purchase admission
- To make a retail purchase
- Necessary for the purposes of health and safety
It is important to note that the following will not be considered a substitute for full vaccination, thus not exempt from providing proof of vaccination as required:
- A person who was previously infected by COVID-19
- Providing a negative rapid antigen test to gain entry except in the case of a wedding or a funeral between the periods of September 22 to October 12, 2021.
Do vaccine passports apply to employees of the affected workplaces?
The province has not mandated this for employees. This is not to say similar procedures cannot apply to employees provided that accommodations are made for protected reasons under the Human Rights Code. Ultimately, this decision is left up to employers to assess whether to mandate vaccination among employees based on the context of the workplace and various other factors. As such, it is important that a clear vaccination policy be established and implemented to coincide with the roll out of the vaccine passport system.
Are businesses required by law to establish vaccination policies?
The short answer is, yes, for most businesses operating in specific municipalities or regions. In particular, this has become a legal requirement for employers based in Toronto, Peel, Halton and Durham (to name a few) following the recent directive from the respective local medical officer of health to establish a workplace vaccination policy.
At minimum, the policy must require:
- Employees to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19;
- Unvaccinated employees to provide a reason for medical exemption and whether the restriction is temporary or permanent; or
- Completion of a COVID-19 vaccination educational session to be informed on the risks and benefits of vaccination.
The City of Toronto has provided some employer resources and key considerations in drafting a vaccination policy.
What if the requirements are not complied with?
Affected employers and businesses must comply with all the mandates set out in the Re-opening Ontario Act and as obligated under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This includes adherence with the vaccine passport system, continued compliance with the COVID-19 Workplace safety plan and all health screening measures mandated by the government.
Enforcement may be carried out by all provincial offences officers, including by-law officers, police, public health inspectors, regulatory officers and Ministry of Labour inspectors. Non-compliance by individuals and businesses may be subject to fines and penalties as provided for under the Re-opening Ontario Act.
Recommendations for Employers
- Establish and communicate procedures to help employees handle and comply with the implementation of vaccine passports for affected workplaces.
- Establish and implement a written workplace vaccination policy. This requirement applies to all employers operating in Toronto, Peel, Halton and Durham for instance and is not only restricted to those workplaces where vaccine passports apply.
- Educate and train employees on the vaccination policy and COVID-19 related procedures to support the roll out of the vaccine passport on September 22.
- Review existing policies on workplace violence and harassment and assess potential risks to protect employees in administering this proof of vaccination process.
- Apply for free COVID-19 rapid tests if eligible. This is an additional screening tool that can be used for unvaccinated employees within the workplace.
References and Additional Resources:
The content shared in this blog post is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice.
At Strategywise HR, we understand the HR challenges employers face and the workplace laws that affect you. If workplace issues are keeping you up at night, or you are simply looking for a professional sounding board to determine the best course of action for your situation, we can help. Our focus is in helping mid-sized employers make informed people decisions that reduce risk and costly exposures for you and the organization.