Arbitrator Weighs in on the Reasonableness of a Hospital’s Mandatory Vaccination Policy

In Lakeridge Health v. CUPE, Local 6364, 2023, Arbitrator Herman upheld a hospital’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy (“Policy”). The Arbitrator found that the hospital’s Policy, which called for the termination of employees who refused to comply with the mandatory vaccination order, was reasonable.

In June 2021, Lakeridge Health (“Lakeridge” or “Hospital”) implemented a voluntary vaccination policy that required employees to attest to their vaccination status, and for unvaccinated employees to make conscious efforts to protect themselves. Three months later, in response to the increasing spread of the virus, and the issuance of Directive #6 by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Hospital made the decision to revise its Policy to require mandatory vaccination.

The amended Policy required all employees to be vaccinated or face termination.

As a result of this policy, approximately 104 unionized employees were placed on unpaid leaves.  Of those on leave, 47 were terminated.

The Union who grieved the Policy argued that the mandatory vaccination policy was unreasonable.

In his decision, Arbitrator Hermon dismissed the Union’s grievances and agreed with the majority of the Hospital’s Policy. Arbitrator Hermon explained, that there was a sufficient need to protect the health of employees and patients. The rights of the individuals to preserve their employment when unvaccinated was overruled by the reasonable expectation to maintain a safe workplace. The Hospital’s circumstances were specific to providing life-saving health services during the pandemic, which determined that automatic termination for unvaccinated employees was reasonable.

The Arbitrator did, however, disagree with the timeline of termination, stating that Lakeridge should have placed employees on unpaid leaves of absence for at least four weeks prior to terminating them. No remedy for lost wages was awarded, as the employees would have been on unpaid leave during the four weeks prior to termination.

In this first decision regarding the reasonableness of a mandatory vaccination policy in a hospital setting, the Arbitrator clarified that the decision to protect the health of its employees and patients outweighed the rights of individual employees to maintain employment if they decline to get vaccinated.

Although this is an encouraging decision for employers trying to ensure the safety of their employees, it is a reminder that it remains important to properly assess the reasonableness of their policies, prior to terminating an employee.