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Sudbury had the right to fire workers who refused COVID-19 vaccine, arbitrator rules

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The union representing inside, outside and housing staff at Greater Sudbury has lost a grievance opposing the dismissal of staff who didn’t follow the city’s vaccination policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a decision released Thursday, an arbitrator ruled the policy was reasonable considering the state of the pandemic at the time, September 2021. The grievance was filed by CUPE Local 4705.

“The requirement upon each employee was to be fully vaccinated (i.e. two doses in a two-dose vaccine series) by no later than Nov. 15, 2021,” the decision said.

“Under this policy, an unpaid leave of absence could continue until Jan. 16, 2022. If still unvaccinated as of Jan. 17, 2022, the unvaccinated employee would be considered absent without approved leave and treated in accord with the applicable provisions of the collective agreement.”

The decision didn’t say how many employees were affected. At the time, the city said less than three dozen of its employees ultimately refused to follow the policy, which remained in effect until May 1, 2023.

In his decision, arbitrator Kevin Burkett said previous decisions have upheld the policy as reasonable.

“The city’s COVID policy did not violate the collective agreements, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Human Rights Code (subject to individual claims for accommodation, which are not addressed in this Award), the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or the Labour Relations Act,” the decision said.

“Nor did the policy constitute an unlawful or unreasonable intrusion upon individual privacy rights.”

Read the full decision here.

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