Paid Time as Incentive for Vaccinations
/ Author: Ian DeWaard
/ Categories: Blogs, Newsletters, National /
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Paid Time as Incentive for Vaccinations

Forcing workers to get vaccinated is not the right answer. There’s a better way to achieve immunity and halt the pandemic

By Ian DeWaard, Ontario Director

However slowly, vaccinations are rolling out across our country. Nearly five million Canadians have received at least one dose so far.

It’s hard to know just how many people will elect to get vaccinated, but one way to achieve better results is to persuade employers to offer paid time for workers to do so. And not just time off from work, but to actually pay workers for the two or three hours it will take to get the jab.

That vaccines are effective can be seen by stats in Ontario’s long term care (LTC) facilities—the single greatest source of COVID-19 deaths. At peak last April, nearly 3,000 residents were infected, and again nearly 2,000 during the second wave through early 2021.

By March 5, 95 percent of Ontario LTC residents had received at least one dose, with a majority having received both shots. As a result, the infection rate plummeted to nine LTC residents in total as of April 6. That number is holding, even as the rest of the country is entering into what is decidedly a third wave.

Even still, there’s lots of hesitation among the general public about the safety of the vaccine. CBC reports in Hamilton and Ottawa indicate that only approximately 65 percent of LTC staff have elected to get vaccinated, and in some workplaces it’s less than half.

Recently, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 55 years of age, which only further erodes public confidence in the safety of vaccines.

So far, vaccinations are voluntary even in high-risk environments like healthcare and construction camps. That’s a good thing, and it should remain that way.

But there is increasing public debate about how to achieve higher vaccination numbers, from incentivizing, to vaccine passports, to making it mandatory for workers in some sectors like construction. And pressure is mounting.

Public sentiments in some pockets of the country are starting to turn critical—and vocally so—toward those who choose not to get vaccinated. Many are urging that vaccines be mandatory for high-risk work environments.

Some employers are already stating they’ll make vaccination a precondition for hire. Others suggest that workers who refuse should be put on unpaid administrative leave until the pandemic subsides.

We think that there’s a better way: paid time as an incentive and as a reward.

When COVID-19 does hit the workplace, the costs due to spread among staff can be high, especially if workers compensation claims occur as a result. Down time or complete shutdowns result in loss of business.

As for-profit long term care providers have learned, the reputational damage and the possibility of class action lawsuits that follow from an outbreak can be financially devastating.

But mandating vaccinations will come with costs too. Workers and unions will inevitably object on legal grounds.

Case law is not yet well developed for this kind of thing, which means lots of cases and lots of appeals. Some staff will simply leave those workplaces rather than be forced to do something they believe is too risky, or that violates a deeply held value or belief.

And even if workplace policies mandating the vaccine survive legal challenge, there will be an inestimable number of accommodations and human rights complaints from individuals who present sound reason for exemption from mandatory policies.

No one knows at what point we will achieve herd immunity against COVID-19. Some viruses require 60 percent immunity in a population while others require 80 percent or more.

We should continue to strive to get there. But a line is crossed when we compel medical treatments—a line that we should be wary to cross.

Certainly, our workplaces will be better served by a workforce that achieves immunity by incentivized choice, rather than by force.

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