Unvaccinated workers choosing unpaid leave won’t qualify for EI, says Winnipeg HR expert

Many unvaccinated workers in Manitoba will need to undergo regular testing in order to stay at work. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

With new public health requirements coming into place Monday, Manitobans working with vulnerable populations — including those in healthcare, education, and more — will be required to show proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test, or go on unpaid leave.

According to employment expert Tory McNally, unpaid leave means just that — no work, and more importantly, no pay.

“It means their employment relationship stays with the employer, but there will be no paycheque,” McNally, director of HR services at Legacy Bowes, told 680 CJOB.

“It also means there won’t be any government support. They’re considering it that they’ve voluntarily left their job, so they wouldn’t be eligible for Employment Insurance.

Click to play video: 'Answering your COVID-19 questions – Oct. 14, 2021' Answering your COVID-19 questions – Oct. 14, 2021
Answering your COVID-19 questions – Oct. 14, 2021 – Oct 14, 2021

“The days of CERB are over, and its replacement supports have much stricter eligibility requirements, so unpaid leave means… your name would still show up on the roster but you wouldn’t receive any money for that.”

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McNally said workers choosing to go on leave would be guaranteed a similar position when they return, but as the health orders are expected to be in place for the duration of the pandemic, how long the leave will last remains unknown.

“Some people might have banked time that they’ve earned, they might have paid sick days… or they might have vacation pay. We all know that healthcare workers have been working hard over the past couple of years, so they could certainly put in requests to take that first,” she said.

“As long as you’re not breaking conflict of interest clauses, you could get another job — as long as they’re willing to accept that you’re not willing to get vaccinated or take a test.”

Read more: Manitoba vaccine requirements likely to be in place until spring: top doctor

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents over 18,000 healthcare professionals in Manitoba, says it hopes the impact of the new mandate will be small.

“We know so far it seems to be a very small minority of individuals who are either not double-vaxxed yet or who are refusing to and will be undergoing the testing,” CUPE healthcare coordinator Shannon McAteer told Global News.

“We haven’t had a lot of protests or issues from the site so far this morning, so touch wood, hopefully that will continue. But so far, we believe it’s a very small number of individuals.”

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McAteer said while the union encourages its members to get fully vaccinated, privacy over personal health information is still something that should be taken seriously, especially in cases where workers may have medical reasons to choose regular testing over a vaccine.

She said healthcare workers are being encouraged to contact their union reps to help them through that process of any necessary accommodations.

“We don’t know the reasons as to why someone is not or someone is opting for the testing instead of declaring their vaccination status… it may not be a protest, there may be legitimate reasons that someone is not getting it,” she said.

“Quite frankly, it’s none of our business what someone’s personal health information is, and I think we need to be cognizant of the fact that we’re in the business of protecting health information and the privacy of individuals — and this falls in that realm.”

On the education side, the Winnipeg School Division says it has been a gargantuan effort so far to get testing sites up and running for its unvaccinated employees, due in part to its vast size.

Read more: Winnipeg School Division to turn 2 gymnasiums into COVID-19 test sites for staff

Click to play video: 'Manitoba Childcare Association on vaccine mandate deadline' Manitoba Childcare Association on vaccine mandate deadline
Manitoba Childcare Association on vaccine mandate deadline – Oct 18, 2021

The division has chosen the gyms at two high schools — Tec Voc and Grant Park — for off-hours testing clinics.

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“The logistics have been like a military operation trying to get this organized,” WSD spokesperson Radean Carter told 680 CJOB.

“We are the largest school division in the province, and so we have the most employees. So when you look at the percentage of employees who have chosen not to be vaccinated and instead will have that testing done every week, our percentage is quite high compared to others — we’re at about 10 per cent.

“That works out to about 450 regular full-time permanent staff — that doesn’t even include the number of substitute employees that we are also providing the testing facility to.”

Carter said the division has employed a third-party health service to conduct the weekly tests — which will be done under observation to make sure staff are doing it correctly, and that’s it’s accurately recorded that their test results are negative.

Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O’Leary told Global News that vaccine uptake among his division’s staff has been quite high — sitting at around 98 per cent — and that the majority of those who are unvaccinated are participating in testing.

“Then there’s a small group of people who are refusing to take the test, so they’re not at work today and not facing kids,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Winkler care home asking families to volunteer due to concerns over staff refusing vaccine' Winkler care home asking families to volunteer due to concerns over staff refusing vaccine
Winkler care home asking families to volunteer due to concerns over staff refusing vaccine – Oct 15, 2021

“So we’ll continue to meet with them and try and talk to them about this and hopefully they get on board. If they don’t, they’ll be on leave without pay.

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“We hope that people come around. But you know, it could be a lengthy for those folks until provincial health orders change, and we’re not sure when that is. I don’t see that happening next week or the week after.”

O’Leary said parents can be assured that any staff interacting with students have either been fully vaccinated, or have had a recent — within the previous 48 hours — negative test result.

So far, the division has been relatively COVID-free, with a small handful of cases in September and none so far this month, he said.

“As long as community transmission is low, and it appears to be that in Winnipeg, we’re not going to see many cases coming into our schools.

“We’re looking forward to younger students, those 11 and under being eligible for a vaccine, hopefully in the near future, and that’ll be another measure of safety every time we send a class.

“Last year, it was tremendously inconvenient for the kids, for the families, for parents. So the more that we can just get vaccinated and return to normal, the better.”


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