A majority of Canadians say employees who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 should be dismissed from their jobs, according to a new poll.
The survey conducted by Angus Reid, published Monday, showed almost 70 per cent of respondents supported the idea of firing on-board airline employees, school teachers, police officers, paramedics, firefighters and medical professionals if they did not get COVID-19 shots.
Some 64 per cent said unvaccinated restaurant employees should also be laid off, while 55 per cent had a similar opinion for construction workers and 53 per cent for small businesses.
More than 1,000 Canadian adults took part in the online survey from Nov 3-7.
COVID-19 vaccine mandates across Canada have already resulted in thousands of workers in different sectors and provinces losing their jobs or being put on unpaid leave.
The federal government has enforced a mandatory COVID-19 policy for all federal workers.
Starting Monday, employees in the core federal public sector who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be put on unpaid leave, unless they were already granted an accommodation.
Across Canada, hospitals, banks, insurers, school boards, police and some provincial administrations are now also implementing similar policies for current and future hires.
Meanwhile, amid concerns over staff shortages, Quebec backtracked on its policy of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for health-care workers earlier this month. Similarly, Ontario also announced that it will not be requiring hospital workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, pointing to the negative impact of such a mandate on the health-care system.
Mandatory vaccines have become a controversial issue in the country, polarizing Canadians.
Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, said he was “not surprised” by the results of the poll, saying he would partly blame the political leadership for stoking division between the vaccinated and unvaccinated in Canada.
“I think what’s happened is so many people in a position of leadership have given us a green light to be completely intolerant of this,” he said.
“I worry that it’s really quite a social division that may have long-term effects on all of us.”
Terminating employees based on their vaccination status also raises ethical concerns, Bowman said, calling it a “very blunt and aggressive approach”.
“It worries me in terms of fairness in a society that we’re so quick to jump to something like this without really unpacking it.”
From a legal standpoint, those employees who have been let go without a government mandate in place should be entitled to compensation, according to Lior Samfiru, an employment lawyer based in Toronto.
“The employer has to show that the employee cannot do their job safely unless they’re vaccinated,” he said.
“The problem with that is that in Ontario and across Canada, for most employees, the government has decided that the work can be done safely even without a vaccine.”
Samfiru, who is founding partner of Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, said over the past few months, he has seen “one of the largest mass terminations” in his 20 years of practicing law.
“There are many of these cases right now that are in various stages of legal proceedings where employees that have been let go are pursuing compensation from their former employers.”
Outside of the federal sector, most other employees will be able to pursue wrongful dismissal claims and be successful in obtaining compensation if they have been let go over their refusal to get vaccinated, he said.
Last month, Employment and Social Development Canada updated guidelines, saying workers who lose their job over a refusal to vaccinate against COVID-19 may not be eligible for employment insurance benefits.
The department said if an employee doesn’t report to work or is suspended or terminated for refusing to comply with a vaccine mandate, the employer should indicate that they quit, took a leave of absence or were dismissed — potentially disqualifying them from E.I.
— with files from The Canadian Press, Reuters