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Mandatory vaccination policy for County employees, councillors

Prince Edward County council has approved a mandatory vaccination of employees policy.

Council, Tuesday night, adopted the stepped-approach for all full, part, contract staff and council members to have full vaccination status by Nov. 15 – a deadline that puts the County in line with timelines being proposed by neighbouring municipalities.

The policy does not include volunteers (such as firefighters), CAO Marcia Wallace clarified, as it was following the strict definition of employees under the labour act. Council decided to amend the policy to include councillors.

The policy requires proof of one COVID-19 vaccine dose by Oct. 4, and two doses by Oct. 31. Status must be disclosed by Nov. 15, or proof of a medical reason shown. For for those who do not wish to be vaccinated, a negative COVID test is required.

“An increasing number of organizations and municipalities have brought forward a vaccination policy framework,” said Wallace in her report to council. “The overall draft policy implementation aligns with the flexible approach taken by the majority of Ontario municipalities who are requiring full vaccination of their employees.”

A written letter or form completed by a physician or registered nurse confirming a medical barrier to vaccination will be needed to accommodate employees who are not getting vaccinated. The municipality would provide regular rapid antigen testing twice weekly for non-vaccinated staff at a cost of approximately $7 per test, per person.

Wallace notes informal discussions with department directors support an estimate that approximately 85 per cent of municipal employees may have already been identified as fully vaccinated.

“This would not be able to be confirmed unless the County were to put in place a policy that required proof of vaccination. As per privacy rules, this health information would not be stored by the municipality, but rather shown and recorded – similar to how police checks would be done where that is required for a position working with vulnerable people.”

The policy included reviews of public health advice, human rights policy, legislated workplace safety vaccination policies and discussion with the County’s Emergency Control Group (ECG).

Wallace notes the ECG was not unanimous on the best way to work with staff who do not have a medical reason not to be vaccinated.

“Municipalities and other organizations have taken different positions on this issue – some opting for rapid antigen testing requirements (most at the employee’s expense) and others have opted for unpaid leave and potentially eventual dismissal,” stated Wallace, recommending the County take a flexible approach.

Her report noted long-term care staff not providing proof of vaccination are required by the province to participate in an education program and could be moved to ‘safe zones’ where possible. For example, a PSW who normally works in a palliative wing may be relocated to a memory care wing where the risk of contracting or giving COVID-19 is somewhat lesser.

Testing, Wallace notes, is not easily accessible in the County unless people have symptoms or believe they have been exposed. Regionally, there are pharmacies and private companies that do rapid testing.

“For this reason, it is recommended that HR and organizational development staff provide the testing function, but at the cost of the employees requiring it unless they qualify for the medical exemption to the policy.”

While the proposed policy would allow for testing as an alternative for existing unvaccinated staff, future hires to the municipality would be required to follow the policy, unless they qualify for the medical exemption.

On a provincial level, the government required that as of Sept. 22, that people be fully vaccinated and provide proof to access certain public settings and facilities. An enhanced vaccine certificate and verification app to allow businesses to scan QR codes is to be available Oct. 22.

In the context of the municipality, proof of vaccination is required at meeting and event spaces, facilities used for sports and fitness and sporting events (i.e. walking track at Wellington arena, hockey games, at town halls, and municipal buildings for an event or meeting.”

“By contrast, front counter services – people coming in to get information, pay a bill, get something notarized or seek other similar services, would not require proof of vaccination.

In Belleville, employees and volunteers must be vaccinated by Nov. 5. Those without vaccinations for a valid reason may face discipline up to an including dismissal.

Quinte West’s policy is similar, but is still in draft form.

Kingston’s policy is also in draft form and leaning toward weekly testing for employees who choose not to be vaccinated.

The County of Hastings policy requires proof of vaccination by Oct. 29, and further disciplinary action including termination should an employee remain unvaccinated without a valid exemption.

The County of Lennox and Addition’s vaccination policy is in effect as of Oct. 24 where staff much provide proof of vaccination and employees without proof must submit to regular negative testings twice weekly. Violations may result in discipline up to an including termination.

In Tyendinaga’s policy, employees must provide proof by Oct. 4. Unvaccinated employees who do not have a valid exemption will be required to complete a mandatory education session and testing for a period of 30 days. Employees who do not comply will not be permitted in the workplace and may face discipline including leave without pay, up to and including dismissal.

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