Is it time for businesses to ditch vaccine mandates?

As COVID-19 restrictions fall away one by one, and employees head back to work, businesses are grappling with another thorny issue: Whether or not to ditch office vaccine mandates.

For Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, keeping them is a no-brainer: Why risk a COVID outbreak?

“We’re a just-in-time delivery industry, so our members can’t really afford to have their assembly lines grind to a halt because of an outbreak,” said Volpe, whose association supplies auto manufacturers on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Almost all APMA members, said Volpe, are sticking with vaccine mandates, as well as other anti-COVID measures, such as masks and physical distancing.

Trying to avoid COVID outbreaks is crucial for parts manufacturers as the entire auto industry is struggling with a global shortage of silicon chips. That shortage means auto assembly has been running in fits and starts anyway, says Volpe. If a COVID outbreak struck a parts manufacturer at the same time a major automotive plant was up and running again, the parts manufacturer could be at risk of losing its contract with the car company.

“Our members will probably be keeping protocols in place longer than a lot of other industries,” said Volpe.

For manufacturers supplying other industries, there might not be a huge shift — but that’s because many didn’t have mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies to begin with. According to a member survey by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters last summer, less than a quarter of CME member companies had a COVID vaccine mandate for employees.

Many small businesses didn’t have vaccine mandates for staff in the first place either, said Ryan Mallough, Ontario vice-president of legislative affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“When it comes to implementing a formal mandate, that’s hard to do when you’re a small business without an HR department or legal team. Our members generally had more of a ‘we encourage you’ approach, rather than mandates,” said Mallough.

Small businesses that did have a formal mandate need to be just as careful about ditching it as they were about unveiling it in the first place, Mallough added.

“Communicate what you’re doing clearly and look into speaking to a lawyer first. HR policies aren’t always as simple as just turning off a switch. There might be other things to consider before moving forward with a rollback,” Mallough said.

What’s of bigger concern to CFIB members, said Mallough, isn’t employee vaccine mandates, but the continued vaccination requirements for travellers flying into Canada.

“It’s particularly tough for some of our hospitality industry members in Northern Ontario, like fishing or hunting lodges. They’re a seasonal industry, and they really count on customers coming in from the U.S.,” said Mallough. “That’s much more of an issue for them right now than staff mandates.”

In the restaurant industry, which has frequently been on the front lines of the battle over vaccine mandates for members of the public, there’s still a cautiousness around mandates for staff.

“When considering any employee policy, restaurants need to look at the needs and expectations of their guests and employees. Restaurants Canada recommends that operators have open conversations and adjust policies based on this feedback and the best advice of public health officials,” said James Rilett, a vice-president at Restaurants Canada.


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