Canada Post’s Suspension of Unvaccinated Remote Workers During Pandemic Was ‘Unreasonable,’ Arbitrator Rules

by EditorK

A Canada Post Truck in the GTA. (Photo by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine. Public Domain.)

Jennifer Cowan
By Jennifer Cowan

An arbitrator has revoked part of Canada Post’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy for employees, ruling it was “unreasonable” to suspend remote staff without pay for not confirming their vaccination status.

The ruling comes in response to a case filed by the Union of Postal Communications Employees (UPCE). The union argued that the stated objective of federal vaccine mandates—to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace—was not served by requiring that remote workers be vaccinated.

Arbitrator Michelle Flaherty agreed, saying the practice was “unreasonable” when applied to fully remote employees.

“Canada Post has not established a compelling workplace health and safety interest in mandating vaccines for employees who worked exclusively remotely, where there was no reasonable prospect that in-person work would be required of them,” arbitrator Michelle Flaherty wrote in her May 6 ruling.

“These employees had no reasonable prospect of coming into physical contact with the workplace and I cannot conclude that the primary purpose of the practice was advanced by requiring their vaccination.”

Ms. Flaherty also struck down Canada Post’s assertion that its policy requiring all employees receive two COVID-19 vaccine doses was a bid to ensure the health and safety of its employees.

“In essence, the employer’s position is that it can prescribe activities, including medical procedures like vaccination, simply because this could increase the likelihood an employee will be available to work,” she wrote.

“To the extent that any such interest exists, this is outweighed by the important interests at stake for the employees in question, including their privacy and their financial and economic interest in ongoing paid employment.”

The arbitrator also disagreed with Canada Post’s claim that it was too difficult to determine which unvaccinated employees worked remotely at all times in order to offer an exemption.

A total of 37 UPCE members who didn’t confirm they had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were suspended without pay after the federal mandate was enforced, according to the ruling. Some members decided to provide proof of double vaccination, while others opted to leave their jobs.

The ruling applies solely to employees who worked remotely at all times and does not includeUPCE members who did some but not all of their work remotely.

Ms. Flaherty dismissed another complaint from the union accusing Canada Post of acting “unreasonably” when it suspended unvaccinated employees who worked remotely most of the time but who occasionally came into the office.

“The employer is not required to accommodate unvaccinated employees so they can work remotely,” she said. “There is no requirement to adjust an unvaccinated employee’s tasks or to assign parts of their work to other employees. It was not reasonable to expect the employer to do so.”

The arbitrator’s decision does not include compensation. Rather, it will be left up to the union and Canada Post to negotiate how the ruling will be applied and any subsequent compensation for employees the arbitrator found were wrongly suspended, according to arbitration documents.

Canada Post and UPCE, which represents 1,500 postal employees in administrative, professional, and clerical positions, did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.

The ruling could play a significant role in future decisions about grievances filed in 2022 by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) against Ottawa’s mandatory vaccination policy for members working remotely. The postal union is part of PSAC, one of the country’s largest labour unions.

The PSAC said the grievances were being filed on behalf of “all members” of the federal public service who were suspended without pay because they did not provide proof of vaccination.

Jennifer Cowan is a writer and editor with the Canadian edition of The Epoch Times.

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