Within six weeks, any employee of the Town of Banff who has not received their COVID-19 vaccine will be out of work, due to a new administrative policy established by the municipality.
Vaccinations are now mandatory for municipal staff in Mountain City, a decision Acting City Manager Darren Enns said was made to ensure the safety of employees and the community.
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“Ultimately, the vast majority of our staff are already vaccinated. And we are delighted to see that, ”Enns said.
“For the few who choose not to get vaccinated, ultimately, we will have to separate.”
As of Wednesday, Banff had the highest rate of active cases per capita in Alberta.
“The current increase in cases certainly amplified the importance of this,” Enns said. “Ultimately, it is also the right move in the long run.”
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When employee Lauren Earle learned of the new policy, she said she cried because she had not been vaccinated and does not plan to get vaccinated.
“When I signed my current contract, we didn’t get any warning that this was in the works, even though it was being discussed,” he told Global News.
“Essentially, those of us who choose not to have an experimental treatment currently, whether that changes in the future, are essentially being forced out of our jobs.”
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Earle said he worked for the city of Banff for 18 months, during the pandemic, and signed his most recent contract just three weeks ago.
Earle said she has written to the city manager and is awaiting more detailed answers to her questions about the policy, but the mandate makes her question whether she will continue to work for the city regardless of the details of the policy.
“My next move – it’s very up in the air. It is difficult to decide because I like to work for the people, I would prefer to continue working for the people ”, he said.
“But this is a huge difference of opinion and it feels very unfair to us. So it’s hard to see him stick with an employer that would do this to him. “
Enns said the city has exemptions built into its policy, even if someone can’t get the vaccine for a health-related or religious reason.
He also said the city is doing everything possible to incentivize staff who have not yet received the vaccine, including providing them with accurate information and encouraging them to speak with a doctor about their concerns.
The city also offered fully vaccinated employees a gift card for any local business in Banff, or for funds from a gift card to be allocated to a charity of their choice.
Earle said that roughly 20 percent of city employees are not vaccinated, yet City of Banff director of communications and marketing Jason Darrah told Global News that of the 300 people the city employs, “About five people indicate that they do not want to be vaccinated and they will consider terminating their employment.”
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“We have been consulting with staff during the pandemic in an open and transparent manner,” said Darrah.
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“We have had weekly all-staff meetings through Zoom throughout 2020 and we continue with regular virtual meetings and staff newsletters as well as team meetings through 2021, and we’ve always been inquiring about current and upcoming measures. They are considering. including the requirement that employees be vaccinated ”.
Darrah said it was “unfortunate” that an employee chose not to receive the vaccine, “which is a condition of employment and has been proven by extensive medical evidence that it is safe and effective in preventing serious illness and death due to COVID.”
Mandate challenge ‘practically guaranteed’
While it is legal for a public organization, such as a municipal or provincial government, to require employees to be vaccinated, it does not mean that the policy will not face a constitutional challenge.
“I think it is practically guaranteed that there will be challenges in the statutes,” said labor lawyer Lluc Cerda, adding that a vaccine “is not a small interference in the safety of people.”
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Cerda said that if employers intend to fire employees who choose not to receive the mandatory vaccine, they are entering the territory of discriminatory firing.
“If the layoff is found to be discriminatory, this person could be reinstated in the workplace with back pay,” he said.
“Even if it is not discriminatory, which is unlikely, the employer probably does not have good cause to fire this person … for not receiving a vaccine.”
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Cerda said it is a bit different for private companies, which are not governed by the Charter, and may have more flexibility to implement policies such as a vaccine mandate.
However, he said companies imposing such a policy would be vulnerable to legal implications.
“The COVID problem is very, very fluid and it will be a challenge for most employers to demonstrate that there is such an urgent need for vaccine policies that can compel their employees to do so under threat of termination,” said Cerda.
“There could be discriminatory implications, there could be severance package implications that could result in huge legal exposure for private companies in Alberta.”
What are Calgary’s plans?
It is unclear whether the city of Calgary will follow Banff in requiring vaccinations for civic employees.
With more than 13,000 employees, the city is one of Calgary’s largest employers.
City officials did not respond to Global News requests for comment on the issue on Wednesday.
Local 583 Amalgamated Traffic Union, the union that represents city transit workers, said it is not in favor of ordering the vaccine.
“I am totally in favor of vaccines and getting vaccinated and I really hope that the vast majority of people will,” President Mike Mahar told Global News. “I hope it gets a really high saturation rate though. We would have to protect the interests of those within our bargaining unit who choose not to. “
After seven weeks with no new COVID-19 cases among transit workers, Mahar said four were reported in the past week.
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After the death of two employees due to the virus, Mahar said that acceptance of the vaccine among transit workers was high.
“We have been encouraging everyone as the vaccine became more available,” Mahar said. “Frankly, the feedback was that most people didn’t need encouragement. They were eager to get it and bite down a bit to get it. “
Mahar said he would prefer that the city and the province focus their efforts on other health measures such as masking, isolation and testing.
No response from the City of Calgary on whether it will require the COVID-19 vaccine for employees
Meanwhile, Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld said the service is in talks with the City of Calgary and the Calgary Emergency Management Agency regarding handling of the pandemic.
He said police service personnel have been encouraged to receive the vaccine and estimates that the absorption is average compared to the general population.
“As we see learning institutions working together on similar approaches, I think they will see the same thing happen within the police because the context with the police is the same,” Neufeld told Global News Morning.
“As much as there has been a bit of a mosaic around this for surveillance, because of that similar context, we will want to see if we can align ourselves as much as possible.”
The city of Okotoks confirmed to Global News that it would not make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for city employees.
– With files from Lauren Pullen, Global News
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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