'Doing the right thing': more Ottawa companies set to mandate employee vaccinations

Allan Wille
Klipfolio CEO Allan Wille says his company will require all workers to be fully vaccinated before they can come to the office. File photo

While a growing number of Ottawa companies are planning to follow Shopify’s lead and require all employees who are meeting in person to be fully inoculated against COVID-19, others say they’re still ironing out the details of how they plan to deal with the issue of vaccinations in the workplace.

Late last week, the e-commerce giant became one of the first major private-sector employers in the capital to make its stance on vaccinations clear. CEO Tobi Lütke tweeted that any staff who are meeting up will need to show proof they’ve received two doses of the vaccine, saying he made the decision “because science.”

Now, several other companies contacted by OBJ say they’re also preparing to implement similar policies as the surging delta variant drives up case numbers in the region.

Allan Wille, chief executive of downtown software firm Klipfolio, said the company believes the best way to keep its 50 employees safe is by making full immunization mandatory for all workers who intend to come to the office.

“It’s a respect issue. It’s a ‘doing the right thing’ issue,” Wille said. “We’re trying to get everybody on board.”

He stressed that Klipfolio isn’t making vaccination a condition of employment. Workers who refuse the vaccine won’t be fired – they’ll simply be told they can’t come to the office.

“People have the choice,” Wille said. “If you are an individual that didn’t want to get vaccinated, you can work from home.” 

Ottawa-based employment lawyer Alan Riddell, a partner at Soloway Wright LLP, said Shopify and Klipfolio’s announcements are likely just the first of many more to come. 

"Employers have more to lose by not having a mandatory vaccination policy than they have by imposing one."

“By Christmas … I don’t think you’re going to be telling me that there are many companies in Ottawa that haven’t mandated double vaccination for their employees,” he said. “Employers have more to lose by not having a mandatory vaccination policy than they have by imposing one.”

Employers have an obligation to ensure a safe and healthy workplace, Riddell said, adding that most private companies in Ontario have the right to terminate an employee who refuses to get immunized, with two exceptions – they believe in a religion that forbids vaccinations or they have a proven disability or medical condition that prevents them from getting the jab.

“I think there is an extraordinary misunderstanding of the law on this issue,” he said.

The head of one of the city’s largest property management companies told OBJ his organization will also be following in Shopify’s footsteps and plans to publicly announce its decision publicly early next week.

The CEO – who asked to remain anonymous because the firm’s employees have yet not been informed of the decision – said employees working at any of its properties will need to be fully vaccinated, adding the company will rely on the honour system and won’t demand proof that workers have had two shots. 

'In the best interests of everybody'

He added that exceptions will be made for employees who refuse to be vaccinated on religious or medical grounds. Those workers will instead be required to present negative COVID test results.

“We ultimately believe it’s in the best interests of everybody to be vaccinated,” said the executive.

“We’re trying to keep people as healthy as possible and as safe as possible. We don’t see any other way around it.”

His firm as well as Shopify, Klipfolio and others are among a host of private companies and other organizations that are implementing new vaccination policies.

Late last week, the federal government said all federally regulated employers and workers will need to get both jabs, as will all passengers travelling by plane, boat or train. 

Carleton University and the University of Ottawa recently said they will also require all students, faculty and staff to be fully immunized if they want to be on campus this fall. 

Porter Airlines and Sun Life announced similar policies in the past few days, joining tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Some other major local employers say they haven’t made a final decision on how to treat unvaccinated workers who wish to return to the office.

David Ross, chief executive of Ross Video, said his organization is still working on its vaccination policy, adding it “wouldn’t be appropriate” to speak publicly before sharing the details of the plan with its 1,000-plus employees.

The CEO of another large Kanata firm said this week the company is “definitely leaning towards” requiring its employees to either be fully vaccinated or submit to on-site testing but hadn’t finalized its decision.

The executive, who requested anonymity, said the organization’s goal is “to ensure all staff entering our buildings are COVID-free.”

Malini Vijaykumar, an employment lawyer at Ottawa’s Nelligan Law, said Shopify, Klipfolio and other employers that institute mandatory vaccination policies could face some backlash. But ultimately, she added, companies that require workers to get two doses of the vaccine are on solid legal ground. 

“I would be surprised if Shopify does not get some kind of litigation arising out of this,” Vijaykumar said. “But I would also be surprised if the courts or tribunals did not show sympathy towards Shopify in that litigation.”

At Klipfolio, Wille said he has no concerns that the policy will trigger dissension among his staff.

“As a matter of fact, I’d be worried about a backlash if we didn’t (institute the policy),” he said. “I think everybody’s in favour.”