Work: What’s Next | Omicron variant and workplace safety

Headshot of employment lawyer Lior Samfiru to the left of the Global News logo, which hovers above a dark blue band across the bottom of the image bearing the Samfiru Tumarkin LLP logo.

Interview Summary

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the province as a result of the Omicron variant, many employers and employees have raised concerns over a return to the workplace. How can employers best protect their staff at this time? What are employees permitted to refuse in order to protect their health and safety?

Lior Samfiru, a Toronto employment lawyer and co-founding partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP joins Global News on Work What’s Next to discuss this ongoing health and safety dilemma.

Interview Notes

What should employers consider in regards to booster shots and vaccine mandates?

Employers have to keep all staff as well as clientele healthy and safe and need to keep the nature of the workplace in mind. Employers might have to limit workplace access and the amount of staff that are at the workplace. At this time, employers would have to consider whether or not there has been an outbreak at their workplace, or if they have managed to work safely without enforcing vaccination. It is also important to remember that most industries do not have a government mandate in place regarding vaccination.

Can an employee be fired if they have not received a booster shot?

If there are no government mandates in place, an employee who has refused to be vaccinated and is terminated will be owed severance pay. Employees can be terminated by their employers but will be owed severance entitlements.

Severance Packages in Ontario

Could a booster shot mandate lead to more court cases and lawsuits?

Court cases are still ongoing regarding vaccine mandates and have yet to be determined as legal or not. There will undoubtedly be more court cases as more employers impose vaccine mandates in the workplace.

Can employers still enforce a return to the workplace as COVID-19 cases continue to rise?

Employers should keep a close eye on the messaging from the government regarding health and safety in the workplace. Public health measures must be implemented such as mask-wearing, social distancing, etc. If requirements are not met, an employee can legally refuse to return to the workplace as it is considered unsafe.

Are employers permitted to implement rapid antigen testing in the workplace?

Rapid testing is a simple and effective way to ensure safety in the workplace and is more permissible than mandating vaccination. Testing is accessible and could be implemented to ensure safety in the workplace.

What should employees be aware of if they are laid off as a result of capacity limits?

Employees who need to be off work can rely on employment insurance, as well as possible sick days through their employer or the government. Employees who need to be off due to medical reasons are also able to apply for disability benefits.

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