Mandatory Vaccine Policies, Exemptions & Other Options

Mandatory Vaccine Policies, Exemptions & Other Options: Courtney Mulqueen

Since the summer of 2021, there has been a push in many jurisdictions to ensure all eligible students and teachers are vaccinated against COVID-19. Many teachers rushed to be fully vaccinated in time to start the school year in September, while others waited a little longer and became vaccinated in response to the growing pressure from the government and their school boards.

Although vaccination has not been made mandatory for teachers, the Ontario Ministry of Education and individual school boards in the province have implemented various vaccination and COVID-19 testing policies and procedures. Teachers are required to disclose their vaccination status. Unvaccinated teachers are required to undergo frequent rapid testing and, in some districts, to attend mandatory educational sessions regarding the benefits of vaccination.

While the government has not mandated vaccination for educators, some school boards have set their own mandatory vaccination deadlines. Vaccination policies differ between school boards as do the consequences for not becoming vaccinated and failing to follow testing protocols. Consequences for not adhering to policies include disciplinary action such as unpaid leaves of absence, and in some cases, termination of employment.

Although a vast majority of teachers and school staff in the province have been vaccinated and have disclosed their vaccine status, a handful of teachers have either not attested to their vaccination status or have applied for vaccination exemptions.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is the largest school board in the country with nearly 40,000 staff. According to recent reports, as of December 1, 2021, approximately 680 TDSB staff were seeking creed-based exemptions and 128 were seeking medical-based exemptions. Additionally, around 1,200 staff have been deemed non-compliant with the board’s vaccination procedure.

Determining eligibility for exemptions can be complex and time consuming, requiring decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis. According to the TDSB website, as of December 1, the TDSB has approved only four medical exemptions and zero creed-based exemptions. Approximately 800 TDSB staff requests remain in the queue for consideration.

According to Ontario’s chief medical officer, the rate of medical exemptions should be between one and five in 100,000 or 0.005 percent  based on the rate of adverse reactions (severe allergic reaction or history of heart inflammation). Even with only four medical exemptions approved by the TDSB to date, the rate of approvals is estimated to be 42 times greater than what would be expected. Religious or creed-based exemptions are even more rare .

Like all employers, school boards must carefully consider each request for exemption based on the information submitted. Medical information must be provided to support requests for exemptions. However, the personal health information submitted can only be used for the purpose of determining eligibility for the exemption, it cannot be used in relation to any other claim.

If nearly all outstanding exemption requests at the TDSB are denied, those applicants will need to be vaccinated or they will be placed on administrative leave without pay. On November 22, approximately 330 unvaccinated staff were placed on unpaid leave.

If you are a teacher who is suffering from a disability that prevents you from working or from being vaccinated and you would like assistance with your Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP) long-term disability (LTD) claim, please contact us.

I have been representing teachers in their OTIP LTD benefit disputes for over a decade and, before that, I represented OTIP in defending their LTD denials for nearly as long. OTIP claims are complex and require an in-depth knowledge of the OTIP LTD Plan as well as other important benefits, employment and pension issues and entitlements.

At MK Disability Lawyers we offer trauma-informed, confidential and free consultations to teachers who would like to better understand their options. During our consultation, we will review your OTIP LTD denial letter, discuss your disability and your LTD claim, and in consultation with you, we will then weigh your options and assess which course of action will best serve you in the context of your claim and your disability.If you would like our assistance or representation in your OTIP LTD application, appeal or in a Court Action, we provide trauma-informed, experienced legal services dedicated to teachers who are disabled and disputing the denial or termination of their OTIP LTD claims.