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Dufferin County Adopts COVID Vaccination Policy for Staff


Dufferin County employees will face unpaid suspension followed by termination if they are not fully vaccinated and without a valid exemption due to its new COVID vaccination policy.

“My problem is, I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t get vaccinated,” said Councillor Steve Soloman, Mayor of Grand Valley. “If you think it’s a government overreach to try to take control of your rights and freedoms, I think you’re giving the government too much credit.”

On October 14, 2021, Dufferin County council received a draft COVID vaccination policy from staff that would have non-unionized employees terminated at the end of 2021 if they were not fully vaccinated and had no valid exemption. A resolution passed at their previous meeting a week earlier, directing staff to develop a ‘vaccinate or terminate’ policy after receiving legal advice on the matter in a closed session. Many councillors said that they had since ‘softened’ their positions after having time to think it over, and council eventually decided to first suspend without pay for a period of six weeks, followed by termination. 

“Having had a week to think about the direction we’re about to take, I became more and more concerned if that was the right course of action,” shared Warden Darren White, Mayor of Melancthon Township. “I think that puts us in a position where we can’t come back from, we have the possibility then to destroy somebody’s career and substantially change somebody’s life.”

Councillors hoped that the time without compensation would lead many to reconsider and get vaccinated, on top of the two months already built into the policy allowing staff to remain employed without being fully vaccinated. The suspension period, versus outright termination, was also seen as a risk mitigation factor if the provincial government or public health issued a vaccination mandate that would make the county’s policy redundant and reduce the need for employee terminations. It was also said that suspension for failing to comply with county policy could be a valid reason for termination with cause, rather than terminating them outright. Human resources staff advised suspending employees over putting them on a leave of absence. 

“I see our policy as a tool that will help us get that last push for those who wish to be unvaccinated to take this seriously,” said Mulmur’s Mayor Janet Horner, saying she’s received feedback from staff applauding council for their original decision to implement a ‘vaccinate or terminate’ policy. “They do not feel safe if they have to go back and be in an area with unvaccinated people.” 

The fourteen Dufferin County councillors have thirty-two votes total spit between them, allocated based on the population size of the municipalities that each councillor represents. For example, Orangeville’s Mayor and Deputy Mayor have seven votes each, and therefore possess almost half of the total votes on Dufferin County council. Councillor Bob Currie, Mayor of Amaranth, was the only councillor who voted against instituting the COVID vaccination policy. Councillor Philip Rentsch, Deputy Mayor of Grand Valley, was absent from the meeting at the time of the vote. However, Councillor Rentsch did communicate that he believed termination to be punitive rather than reasonable, considering the increased capacity limits at establishments such as sports stadiums. At the previous meeting, Rentsch had voted against the resolution directing staff to develop a ‘vaccinate or terminate’ staff COVID vaccination policy. 

“We have the obligation to make policies that are reasonable, and I’ve heard a lot about feelings,” said Councillor Rentsch. “I don’t know that that’s a great way to make a policy.”

Dufferin News previously reported concerns around terminations occurring in Dufferin County’s public works department and how they could significantly impact snow plowing operations this winter. Similarly, it was reported that approximately 20% of paramedics employed by Headwaters Healthcare Centre were not double vaccinated. Terminations of paramedics could have service impacts in Dufferin, including a temporary reduction of the community paramedic program. Community paramedics are subject to the policies of Headwaters Health Care Centre and are required to be vaccinated by November 15. A separate but similar COVID vaccination policy is required by the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Dufferin Oaks staff. 

“We are aware that there’s going to be ramifications,” said Warden White at Melancthon’s October 7 council meeting when notifying his fellow township councillors of the developments. “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.” 

To the county’s third-party ability provider, Dufferin County employees must disclose vaccination status and provide proof of vaccination by November 1, 2021. Those medically exempted from receiving the vaccine will utilize the same channel to submit evidence from a licensed physician or practitioner. Employees who choose not to be vaccinated without a valid exemption will be required to undergo educational training about the importance, safety, and effectiveness of vaccination. Moreover, beginning the week of November 8, 2021, employees that are not fully vaccinated without a valid exemption will be required to undergo regular rapid antigen testing. 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. Employees without valid exemptions who still choose not to be vaccinated will be put on a six-week unpaid suspension starting December 31, 2021. Termination will occur at the end of the six-week suspension if county employees have still not complied with the county’s COVID vaccination policy. Dufferin County’s COVID vaccination policy allows for the definition of fully vaccinated to be expanded to include any additional doses recommended by Health Canada.

“We’re experiencing… a complete void of leadership from both levels of government with regards to COVID,” asserted Warden White. “We have so little assistance from those levels of government on which way to go, and everyday there’s a different decision.”

Separate COVID vaccination policies applicable to councillors, in addition to committee and board members, will be brought forward for Dufferin County council’s consideration to future meetings.

“I think it’s incumbent on us to take this back to our municipalities and share with them where we’re going,” declared Warden Darren White. So far, Dufferin’s municipalities have discussed various approaches, and several councils have directed staff against taking ‘vaccinate or terminate’ policies. Both Shelburne and Amaranth councils have passed resolutions making moves towards what would be a ‘vaccinate or test’ policy which, as previously indicated, entails significant costs to the employer.

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