Council to vote on staff vaccination policy

By Merna Emara

Staff Writer

The Town of Fort Frances council is set to vote on a vaccination policy that applies to all employees, members of council, members of boards and committees, volunteers and contractors of the town.

If approved, the policy will require all staff to show proof of their vaccine receipt to Alyssha Hansma, the HR Manager, by Dec. 1, 2021.

According to the COVID-19 policy, drafted by bylaw enforcement officer Patrick Briere, Hansma will then sign the attestation form verifying the confirmation of proof of vaccine. The town only requires the verification of the receipt that indicates receipt of a vaccine approved for use in Canada, the policy states.

Staff members who remain unvaccinated for medical reasons could provide proof in the form of a completed medical form as provided by a medical practitioner. The medical note can be sent confidentially to Hansma’s email or by sending it in a sealed envelope to the HR Manager’s Office, according to the policy.

Staff who are unvaccinated due to medical reasons will be required to undergo regular rapid antigen testing twice per week. According to the policy, testing should take place Monday’s, Friday’s or the closest days possible to those days. All staff, except contractors with valid medical exemptions, will be provided with leave to take their test on their test day paid by the town.

Coun. Douglas Judson said it is important that medical reasons not be drawn from the sky, and that they’d be provincially-recognized medical reasons.

“I don’t know if the [policy] was explicit about that,” Judson said. “The fact that I went to see a quack set up in a back alley who said I had a medical reason isn’t good enough for me to meet the medical exemption criteria. We should be consistent about that, because the province has been very clear that exemptions are very, very limited.”

Briere said they will tweak the policy to include only provincially-recognized medical exemptions.

On the other hand, staff who choose to remain unvaccinated for other reasons are required to participate in an approved educational session about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination.

Briere said there is a 32-page presentation speaking to the benefits of the vaccine, including how the vaccine works, the risks of not getting vaccinated and possible side effects of the vaccine. This presentation has been prepared after the health unit and other municipalities that adopted similar policies were consulted.

Proof of completion of the educational session will be required. The training will be completed outside of the regular workday and staff will not be compensated for this time, the report states.

Similar rapid antigen testing twice per week is in place for staff who are unvaccinated. However, time taken to obtain the test will not be paid for by the town.

“Town employees will be provided with leave to take their test on their test day; time for the test will not be regular time paid by the Town,” the policy states. “Town employees may use bank time if available.”

After the approval of the policy, staff who fail to comply with this procedure may be placed on an unpaid administrative leave or be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.

The policy has the purpose of providing COVID-19 vaccination guidelines to individuals subject to the policy.

“The Town is committed to providing a safe working environment for its staff, its customers, and members of the public,” the policy states. “All Individuals subject to this policy are encouraged to receive a COVID-19 vaccine unless there is an Ontario Human Rights Code protected reason to not receive a vaccine.”

Because COVID-19 remains to be a serious risk in the community, the town recognizes the importance of immunization as a key element to help keep its facilities safe.