Aird & Berlis LLP (“Aird & Berlis”) is delighted to partner with The Academy of Ophthalmic Education (“AOE”) and the Canadian Society of Eye Health Practitioners (“CSehp”) to provide legal services on a preferred basis to AOE and CSehp members. In addition to providing high- quality legal services, Aird & Berlis is committed to working with AOE and CSehp members in other capacities to improve efficiency within your organizations.

We are pleased to provide this article on vaccination policies and related considerations for eye health professionals. Read on to learn more about Aird & Berlis’ partnership with AOE and CSehp, which includes preferred rates for members.

Vaccination Policies: What Eye Health Professionals Need to Know

In an effort to decrease workplace COVID-19 outbreaks, and stem the spread of COVID-19 generally, public health officials in many municipalities across Ontario are recommending that employers develop and implement workplace vaccination policies. Under Ontario’s pandemic regulations, employers must follow recommendations from local public health officials. Accordingly, employers in many parts of Ontario are required to implement vaccination policies.

Even in municipalities where the requirement for employers to implement vaccination policies is less clear, many employers are choosing to implement such policies in view of the requirement imposed on employers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) to provide employees with a safe workplace.

What Must be Included in a Vaccination Policy

In certain municipalities, the recommendations from local public health officials set out some of the measures that should be included in a vaccination policy. For example, in the City of Toronto, workplace vaccination policies must require employees to either present proof of vaccination, or provide proof – from a doctor or a nurse practitioner – that they are medically exempt from being vaccinated. The policy must also require unvaccinated employees to attend at an educational seminar on vaccine safety and the risks of being unvaccinated.

In other municipalities, the recommendations take a different approach. Peel Region, for instance, has recommended that employers assess the level of risk in their workplaces and decide if it is necessary to collect information on their employees’ vaccination status.

However, we note that employers that do not implement a robust vaccination policy may be in breach of their obligations under the OHSA to provide a safe workplace.

Considerations for Eye Health Professionals

Protecting patients. Eye health professionals, like all healthcare providers, have a responsibility to protect the health of their patients. When patients visit an eye health professional, they trust that every reasonable precaution will be taken to protect them. A strong vaccination policy, particularly one that requires all employees to be vaccinated, is an effective way to protect patient health.

Protecting employees. Conducting eye examinations necessarily involves close contact with patients in confined spaces. Even with masking, the risk of employees contracting COVID-19 from a patient is increased. A strong vaccination policy can protect employees and reduce the likelihood of a COVID-19 related closure.

Other Considerations

Privacy. Confirming an employee’s vaccination status will necessarily involve collecting personal health information. Employers must be careful with how this information is collected, recorded and stored. Mishandling employees’ personal health information could constitute a violation of privacy laws and result in liability.

Medical exemptions. While medical exemptions from vaccination are extremely rare, if an employee presents documentation from a doctor or nurse practitioner saying they cannot be vaccinated, an employer must accommodate that employee. This may include additional precautions such as masking or rapid-testing, but employers must be careful not to treat the exempt employee adversely and risk a claim of discrimination.

Non-compliance. This is one of the biggest challenges for employers. If the workplace requires vaccination, what do you do with an employee who refuses to be vaccinated? For many employers, the answer is to terminate the employment relationship. However, it is not yet clear whether refusing vaccination would constitute just cause for dismissal. If an employer decides to terminate an employee who refuses to be vaccinated, the option that carries the least risk is to terminate on a without cause basis. However, that would mean that the employee would be entitled to termination pay.

We encourage you to reach out to Fiona Brown and Marni Pernica for support in preparing a vaccination policy and more broadly. As a full service law firm with over 200 lawyers, Aird & Berlis is well-equipped to support AOE members in all areas, including understanding their health and safety obligations and developing return to work plans and COVID-19 policies.

About Aird & Berlis

Aird & Berlis is a leading Canadian law firm based in Toronto, serving clients across Canada and globally. Our team of lawyers and patent agents provides strategic legal advice in all principal areas of business law. The firm is consistently recognized as a leading Canadian law firm by several international and national guides to the legal profession.

Aird & Berlis provides strategic and comprehensive legal counsel to the full range of participants in the healthcare sector, including eye health professionals. From big picture issues of governance and strategy to the nuts and bolts of everyday practice, we provide advice that will help you achieve your objectives.

Preferred Rates for AOE and CSehp Members

In recognition of the firm’s partnership with AOE and CSehp, Aird & Berlis is delighted to offer all AOE and CSehp members a 10% discount on all legal services, with no minimum spend necessary. This offer is only available to AOE and CSehp members.

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