Last updated: July 21, 2021 at 6:22 p.m.

The COVID-19 vaccine, including a booster dose, is the best way to protect against becoming seriously sick from COVID-19 and its variants. Vaccines approved in Canada are safe and effective. They have been carefully studied with billions of doses given around the world.

Promoting vaccination helps to increase workplace safety. Employers can help encourage vaccination by making it easier for workers to get vaccinated, and providing information from trusted sources. COVID-19 vaccination is an important layer of protection for workers, their families and the community, especially as public health measures such as capacity limits and physical distancing are lifted.

Employers can encourage employees to get vaccinated with a few simple steps:

  • Lead by example and  stay up-to-date on all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses, including any booster dose(s).
  • Share your reasons for getting the vaccine.
  • Consider recruiting workplace vaccine champions to help staff understand the benefits of getting vaccinated.
  • Post information about nearby vaccination clinics in common areas.
  • Offer flexible work hours, or paid time off for employees to go get vaccinated.
  • Consider using incentives for getting vaccinated.

Resources:

The characteristics of a workplace vaccination policy should take into consideration the workplace risk of transmission and severe illness.  Assess your workplace risk by considering the following:

  • Does your workforce have a high vaccination rate?
  • Are workers required to be in close contact with others?
  • How long and how often are workers in close contact with other workers or patrons?
  • Does your workplace have physical barriers when workers have frequent, short duration close contact with others (e.g. cash registers, checkout counters), good ventilation and personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect workers?
  • Do you have workers who may be at risk for severe illness from COVID-19? Some people may have reduced immunity due to age, pre-existing health conditions or medical treatments.
  • Is your workplace able to offer alternative work for people who require accommodation, for example remote work?

The workplace policy should adhere to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code  and privacy laws.

Please note: the information provided on this webpage does not contain legal advice and should not be relied on or treated as legal advice; those for whom these recommendations are intended may seek their own legal advice for their specific circumstance.

Key Components in a Vaccination Policy

1. Identify the scope and purpose.

  • Explain the purpose of the policy. Vaccination against COVID-19, including any booster dose(s), is one of the best ways to protect workers. Vaccination can also help protect against COVID-19 variants of concern, and lowers the risks of COVID-19 infection, including severe illness and hospitalization.
  • Explain who the policy applies to. Will the policy apply to all workers, contractors, and/or agency staff?
  • Have a clear communication plan to inform workers about the policy.

2. List action steps workers must take.

To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, workplace policies should require workers to provide proof that they are vaccinated. Employees should be encouraged to stay up-to-date on all their recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses, including any booster doses, when eligible.

Workers who cannot or choose not to be vaccinated should be required to:

  • Indicate that they have a medical exemption, including if the reasons are temporary or permanent. The medical exemption should be written by a licenced doctor or nurse practitioner and does not need to include the reason for the exemption.
  • Complete a vaccination education course, with a signed declaration stating that they understand the risks of COVID-19 and the benefits of vaccination. The vaccination education course should include information on:
    • How the COVID-19 vaccines work;
    • Vaccine safety related to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines;
    • The benefits of vaccination against COVID-19;
    • Risks of not being vaccinated against COVID-19; and
    • Possible side effects of COVID-19 vaccination.

Workers may request an exemption based on the Ontario Human Rights Code. Read the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) Questions and Answers summary to learn more about an individual’s human rights and their obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal consultation is recommended for any institutions seeking to establish an exemption policy in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code.

3. Set deadlines for when the actions must be taken.

Specify a reasonable date when workers must demonstrate compliance with the workplace policy.

4. List available supports for vaccination.

Demonstrate your commitment to supporting workers to get vaccinated, such as:

  • Providing vaccine information from credible sources and in multiple languages, as appropriate.
  • Supporting workplace vaccine champions to initiate conversations with their peers.
  • Providing paid leave to get vaccinated.
  • Reminding workers of their sick pay entitlements if they have side effects from the vaccine, such as up to three paid sick days under the Employment Standards Act.
  • Offering incentives such as gift cards, prizes or company swag when they show that they are up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccines
  • Hosting an on-site vaccination clinic.

5. Options for Unvaccinated Workers

Your policy can list alternative options for workers who decline to get vaccinated, such as those with medical exemptions. Some options to consider include: use of additional PPE, frequent COVID-19 rapid antigen testing, worker relocation, and modified work or reassignments.

6. Non-Compliance

Outline the potential consequences for workers who do not fulfill the requirements of the policy. Seek legal advice when developing and implementing any consequences.

7. Privacy considerations

The policy should specify how individual employee vaccination status will be used by employers to mitigate the health-related risks of COVID-19. Knowing your workers’ vaccination status may be important to help you take appropriate action quickly, in the event of COVID-19 cases in your workplace, to protect employees, their families, and the general public.

Employers collecting proof of vaccination must comply with applicable privacy legislation that governs the need to keep personal/health information confidential and secure. Employers are encouraged to seek legal advice regarding the privacy obligations that apply to their particular workplace.

When collecting information about a worker’s vaccination status:

  • Identify ways to safeguard workers’ personal/personal health information.
  • Ensure personal information, including personal health/vaccination information is kept in a secure manner and only used for the valid purpose for which it is collected.

See information on how employees can get their vaccination receipt.

8. Staff contact

  • Identify who at your organization staff should contact with questions about the policy, to request accommodation, or for more information. The policy should also indicate the person to whom workers should provide proof of vaccination.

While strongly encouraged, these recommendations are voluntary, and are not intended to be legally enforceable under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020.

Resources:

Employers interested in hosting an on-site vaccination clinic are invited to complete a short survey to register for an initial assessment call. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.

Please only complete the survey if:

  • You have a business or are representing an organization in the City of Toronto (postal code beginning with M). If your business or organization is outside Toronto, please use the Provincial Public Health Unit Locator to find your local public health unit; and
  • You are the person(s) responsible for your business or organization.

Express interest in hosting an on-site vaccination clinic

Ontario workers may qualify for up to three days of paid sick leave under provincial legislation. They may take time off work to get vaccinated or if they have side effects from the vaccine. Employers can apply for reimbursement for this paid leave. The program is currently retroactive to April 19, 2021 and has been extended to March 31, 2023. Visit the Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit page to learn more.

Resources:

COVID-19 Vaccination Education Module

Employers can use Toronto Public Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination: Understanding the Benefits and Risks module to ensure employees understand the risks of COVID-19 and the benefits of vaccination.

Launch COVID-19 Vaccination: Understanding the Benefits and Risks (English)

Vaccine Posters, Graphics and Other Resources

  • Vaccine-related posters, graphics and other resources are available in multiple languages on Toronto Public Health’s Vaccine Resources page.
  • Information about COVID-19 vaccines
  • Where to get vaccinated
  • VaxFacts : A free service that connects residents with Scarborough Health Network doctors to help answer questions about COVID-19 vaccines. Workplaces can encourage workers who have questions about the vaccines to book a VaxFacts appointment for one-on-one phone consultation with a doctor.

Supporting Employee Mental Health

Workplace vaccination policies and getting vaccinated are important tools to help protect your workplace.  After vaccination, continue to follow public health guidance to help keep your workplace safe. Visit COVID-19 Guidance: Employers, Businesses & Organizations.

Screening after Vaccination

Consider posting signs in visible locations for staff and patrons to screen themselves before entering the premises. If they have symptoms, ask them to stay home and self-isolate. Vaccination can prevent severe illness from COVID-19, however people can still spread the virus to others.

Self-Isolation after Vaccination

If an employee is exposed to someone with symptoms of COVID-19 or who tests positive for COVID-19, they may need to self-isolate. Self-isolation can change depending on an employee’s vaccination status. Learn more about What to Do If You are a Close Contact.

If the employee develops symptoms, they must self-isolate immediately, regardless of vaccination status. See What to Do If You Have COVID-19 Symptoms.

Steps to Support Employees Returning to the Workplace

Employees may feel hesitant, anxious or fearful of returning to work premises, even if they are up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccines. Be flexible, empathic and open to questions to increase employee confidence in returning to the workplace.

  1. Continue to Encourage & Support Employee Vaccination.

Having a high vaccination rate will protect employee health, reduce absenteeism, support business re-opening, and promote employee confidence for a safer return to work.

  1. Continue to Follow Public Health Guidance even after Vaccination.

Vaccination can prevent severe illness from COVID-19. However, people can still spread the virus to others. Refer to the guidance for employers, businesses and organizations for more information on infection prevention and control (IPAC) measures to help keep your workplace safe.

  1. Update Workplace Health and Safety Policies.

Inform staff and patrons about the measures in place to keep everyone safe. Include a section on how to support high-risk employees and/or patrons who are over 70 years old; pregnant and/or people with health conditions, when possible.

  1. Support Employee Mental Health.

A safe return to work for employees includes supporting mental health in the workplace. Providing opportunities for employees to openly discuss their concerns about returning to in person work will help to develop a culture of support. COVID-19 has made life more challenging for all of us. Encourage employees to access support by calling 2-1-1 or visiting the COVID-19 Mental Health Resources page for a diverse list of services. Also refer to the Tip Sheet for Managing Stress and Anxiety.