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Employers navigating new policies around vaccination status, travel rules: HR expert

Employers can't ban employees from the workplace if they are unvaccinated and travel, however, employers can ask for advance notice of travel plans and require employees to follow government guidelines on travel such as quarantine upon their return
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More and more companies have begun outlining mandatory vaccine policies as they consider returning employees to the workplace. 

But, what about if employees want to travel abroad and go back to the workplace the next day after returning from the trip and haven't been vaccinated? 

Andrew Caldwell is an HR advisory team lead at Peninsula Canada and he said the biggest thing about the pandemic for HR departments are the announcements from the government that doesn't exactly give all the details until a few days later.

"These announcements from the governments saying 'hey, we are going to do this' but then no details or information about how it's going to be interpreted and how it's going to be rolled out so you get this big rolling announcement but with no details until a couple of days later." 

Caldwell said despite the frustration of these announcements from the governments, companies can't tell employees where they can go on vacation.

"The employer can try, but it's not really going to hold up," he said, "you can't really tell your employees what they can and cannot do off of company time." 

The employer, however, can tell employees to follow restrictions when they get back from a vacation.

"If the employee tells the employer where they are going, 'thanks for sharing the information, here's what the employer can do', he said, "the employer can tell them the guidelines but the employee is not required to communicate where they are going on their vacation to their employer," he said. 

The information that is provided by the employee is what the employer can act on.

Caldwell adds that with current federal government restrictions, fully vaccinated travelers are now exempt from quarantine upon their return and the day-8 testing requirement.

"If you've been fully vaccinated, you can travel and come back and not quarantine even if you have contracted COVID," he said. "if you have not been fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, or haven't received one shot of the vaccine yet, you're required to quarantine anyway, so your employer can say 'sorry you can't come in, you must follow the government mandate quarantine." 

Caldwell said the interesting debate for staff who have to quarantine in terms of paid time off is that you have to take into consideration the quarantine time if you're required to do so.

"The employee knew what would happen if they had to go and therefore they took on the risk of having to quarantine," he said, "if they can work from home then great, but they chose to go on that vacation and potentially have to take that unpaid time off of work."

He mentions that it's just another step in the process that employees have to consider before booking their next vacation.

Caldwell said that the post-pandemic world is an ever-changing one when it comes to employers' workplace policies. 

"There could be an announcement that comes out tomorrow that says all employers are required to have a mandatory vaccination policy but right now it's only a select few in Ontario," he said, "some employers and small to medium-sized employers can try to mandate a mandatory vaccine policy but that's not a mandate to be vaccinated that's just saying you have to have a policy in place meaning you're either fully vaccinated, you have a reason not to be vaccinated, or you're open to being tested continually or taking an education course. You can't mandate employees to be vaccinated as of yet." 

He mentions that it's great for small to medium-sized businesses to have a policy in place to identify what they'll do about vaccines and how you will treat employees who may have chosen not to get it at this time for various reasons and update their records without breaching their personal medical information and privacy. 

Caldwell said that some hospitals and big banks have said if employees choose not to be vaccinated then they will be terminated.

"That doesn't mean they will be terminated for cause," he said, "they may be let go of their employment and then paid out, but it's hard to say that you can terminate someone for cause because they haven't been vaccinated," he said. 

Caldwell said that there is still lots to play out but he is waiting for how employment lawyers and courts are going to treat it.

"Right now, it's being based on interpretations on what the government has said." 

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