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Dufferin County May Adopt ‘Vaccinate or Terminate’ Policy

DUFFERIN COUNTY MAY ADOPT VACCINATE OR TERMINATE STAFF POLICY

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Dufferin County staff will soon be subject to a ‘vaccinate or terminate’ policy.

“There’s no way this doesn’t ruffle some feathers,” said Warden White of county council’s decision. “Nobody thought they’d be making this kind of a decision when we put our names forward to run.”

In September, Dufferin County council directed staff to consult with legal counsel and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health to develop a COVID-19 vaccination policy that would apply to council and staff. On October 7, 2021, the council held a special meeting closed to the public where members discussed the legal advice they received and passed a motion to direct staff to draft a ‘vaccinate or terminate’ policy. Councillor Bob Currie, Mayor of Amaranth, and Councillor Philip Rentsch, Deputy Mayor of Grand Valley, voted against the resolution. Both councillors had objected to the development and implementation at the September meeting. Later that day, Warden Darren White communicated that the policy, along with one applicable to councillors, is expected to be ratified and formalized at Dufferin County’s next council meeting on October 14, 2021. 

At Melancthon’s council meeting, Warden White, the township’s mayor, notified councillors of the progress made on the county’s COVID-19 vaccination policy for staff. Dufferin News later confirmed the details shared by Warden White independently with others attending the closed county council meeting. White explained how staff who were not vaccinated would be given an educational opportunity on why one should do so, followed by a period where they would be expected to get the vaccination. If staff still chose not to get vaccinated, Warden White said they would be dismissed. A draft of the county’s policy states that termination would occur at the end of the year; it also outlines employees must disclose their vaccination status by November 1, 2021. 

Orangeville Mandates Vaccine for Council, Board Members

Unless a valid exemption is provided, any unvaccinated Orangeville councillors will soon have their pay suspended, and the town will remove unvaccinated committee appointees from their positions. Following similar directives from the Towns of Mono and Shelburne and the County of Dufferin, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate has been passed by Orangeville’s council. A mandatory COVID-19 […]

“We thought the most reasonable way moving forward was your choices are vaccinate or after a short period of time,” explained White, “if you choose not to, then your employment with the county will be terminated.”

According to White, independently confirmed with other meeting attendees, three options were presented to councillors regarding a county staff vaccination policy; vaccinate or test, vaccinate or take leave, and vaccinate or terminate. White said that the two other policies would have been ‘unfair’ to those choosing to get vaccinated. 

‘Vaccinate or test’ has been discussed by the councils of several Dufferin’s municipalities, including the Town of Shelburne and the Township of Amaranth. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers must pay for workers’ COVID-19 rapid antigen testing. This includes the costs of the tests, associated travel time and expenses, and the time to undergo testing. Given this, if the county were to employ a ‘vaccinate or test’ policy, it could cost significantly.

“It essentially means you’d have employees working eight hours a day while others were paid three-hour blocks twice a week to get tested on county time,” said Warden White.

Shelburne To Implement COVID-19 Vaccination Policy

After several meetings where council discussed the issue, staff for the Town of Shelburne will soon be subject to a COVID-19 vaccination policy. On October 4, 2021, Shelburne’s council passed a motion directing staff to use Dufferin County’s upcoming COVID-19 Vaccination Policy as the primary basis for its own. Furthermore, the council resolved that the […]

The third option would have Dufferin County put unvaccinated employees on a leave of absence until they decide to get vaccinated, or the policy was no longer in effect. White shared that putting employees on leave brings on notable concerns and costs as well.

“If we chose to put people on leaves of absence, we’re still required to maintain their benefits, they still accrue seniority, they still get vacation time,” said Warden White.

At Melancthon’s council meeting, Councillor Margaret Mercer questioned the human rights implications in the event of the county terminating employees who chose not to get vaccinated. White replied by saying that most challenges to the vaccination policies had come down in favour of the employer.

“We’re not going to hold you down and put a needle in your arm,” said Warden White. “You have a human right not to get a vaccination, but there are consequences to you making that decision, and in our case, the consequences will be that you can’t work at the county.”

Warden White told how it is expected that the county will ask its employee benefits administrator to manage the processes involved with confirming proof of vaccination, assessing requests for medical exemptions, and educating employees on vaccines.

“The third-party benefits administrator would already have the abilities to sequester that data,” said White when it came to employees’ confidential health information.

Concerns over staffing at the county level, particularly in public works, were highlighted by Warden White. He reported that the county had experienced difficulty recruiting new employees during the pandemic and that the vaccination policy would likely make it more difficult. Dufferin County details that it is unsure what percentage of its public works employees are fully vaccinated but states that any reduction in staffing in public works would decrease service levels and significantly impact snow plowing operations.

“There are potential service level impacts in the short-term, probably in the medium-term,” told White. “That said, staff has the flexibility to create innovative solutions, whether its incentive packages, signing bonuses, advanced training… nothing has been taken off the table to try and help bridge that gap.”

More on ‘Workplace Isolating’ in East Garafraxa Township

On December 8, 2020, East Garafraxa Township notified the public that the Administration office and the Public Works Yard will be closed until further notice due to COVID-19. After learning that all of East Garafraxa’s public works staff were isolating until December 16th, Dufferin News discovered that they were still working. East Garafraxa Chief Administrative Officer […]

Furthermore, the staff report attached with the county’s draft vaccination policy mentions that an estimated 20% of the paramedics, who Headwaters Health Care Centre employs, are not fully vaccinated. According to the report, Headwaters requires its employees to be vaccinated by November 15, or their employment will end. Effects of a reduction in paramedics detailed in the document include:

  • Longer response times.
  • An inability to take on new community paramedicine clients.
  • An overall reduction in the community paramedic program.

It is said that it could take up to three months to re-establish current paramedic staffing levels in all areas.

“We are aware that there’s going to be ramifications,” said Warden White. “But we have an obligation to protect the members of our staff and the members of the public who have done ‘the right thing,’ for lack of a better term.” 

Warden White said it is expected that Dufferin County’s lower-tier municipalities would adopt similar vaccination policies that would lead to unvaccinated employees being terminated.

“I would believe that given county council is made up of the mayors and deputy mayors, except for two municipalities, that those will be the very same policies that are rolled out at the local tier,” said White. “And therefore, by extension, will be rolled out to boards and committees throughout the municipalities as well.” 

Mulmur Township Defers Establishing Vaccination Policy

The Township of Mulmur has indicated that it will not be joining other Dufferin County municipalities in developing a COVID-19 vaccination policy, at least for the time being. On October 6, 2021, Mulmur Council considered adding a COVID-19 staff vaccination policy to its safety plan. Chief Administrative Officer Tracey Atkinson told how a survey had […]

The next meeting of Dufferin County council is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 14, 2021. The public can submit questions to the council by emailing info@dufferincounty.ca or calling 519-941-2816 extension 2500 before 4:30 p.m. on October 13, 2021. Meetings are streamed live on Dufferin County’s YouTube channel.

“While it doesn’t seem like the costliest,” said Warden White. “It’s likely the most impactful choice for this council term.”

References – Dufferin County to Adopt ‘Vaccinate or Terminate’ Policy

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