Porter Airlines, other companies to require COVID-19 vaccine or negative test for all staff

Toronto's Porter Airlines will require all of its staff to either get vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative for the coronavirus before the start of every shift.

Toronto airline makes move as did Sun Life and Australian carrier Qantas

Toronto's Porter Airlines has not operated any flights since March 2020. Porter, with flights currently scheduled to take off again next month, said Wednesday that staff must be fully vaccinated or present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the start of shift. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

Porter Airlines will require all of its staff to either get vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative for the coronavirus before the start of every shift.

The Toronto-based airline, which is resuming flights next month after being grounded to passenger flights for almost a year and a half, said in a release on Wednesday that "team members must be fully vaccinated or present a negative COVID-19 test administered within 72 hours of the start of their shift."

The airline says it is "the first Canadian airline committed to introducing these important safety measures."

"Now every team member passengers come in contact with will either be fully vaccinated or recently tested. Working and flying with Porter will be a safer experience for everyone," Porter's CEO Michael Deluce said.

Employment lawyer Adam Savaglio, a partner with Scarfone Hawkins LLP in Hamilton, says there are a lot of misconceptions and incorrect assumptions about the law when it comes to vaccination mandates.

"They can't necessarily compel, but they can certainly ask for evidence of vaccination because they have an underlying obligation to that worker and others in the workplace to provide a healthy and safe workplace," he said in an interview.

More mandatory vaccination policies

The federal government recently said it plans to mandate vaccination for federally regulated employers and workers, along with all passengers travelling by plane, boat or train. 

Numerous large companies including Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Google, have said they will require staff who choose to come into the office to be vaccinated before doing so.

On Wednesday, Australian airline Qantas announced a similar policy that will require all staff to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test before coming to work as of November.

Unlike Canada, where more than 80 per cent of the eligible population has received at least one dose, the vast majority of Australians have yet to be vaccinated, so the airline's push is an ambitious one.

Live event giant Live Nation also announced on Wednesday it will require concert attendees at any of its events this fall to be vaccinated.

And as first reported by the Globe and Mail on Wednesday, financial services giant Sun Life will also require, as part of a pilot program, that any staff who choose to work in an office must attest to being fully vaccinated.

Questions about enforcement

Employment lawyer Lindsay Scott says she expects more and more companies will make similar moves in the coming days and weeks.

"With the federal government's move on this point this week as well, I'm not surprised that more and more companies feel comfortable making this kind of policy," the partner at Paliare Roland LLP in Toronto said in an interview with CBC News.

For Scott, the question is not whether such a vaccine mandate is legal — "It is," she said — but how it will be enforced

"The question is really what is going to be the outcome if somebody doesn't comply? Most companies at the moment are saying that if somebody doesn't comply, then there may have to be some sort of education session or perhaps they will be reassigned to duties that aren't client or customer facing."

But she said most companies she's heard of with this policy are not saying that non-compliance would be grounds for termination.

Savaglio is more blunt, saying the consequences will be dire for companies that don't consider mandated vaccinations for their employees.

"It's proven that those who are unvaccinated are more likely to suffer harmful consequences," he said, so beyond being liable for their employees, airlines like Porter could also be potentially liable for their passengers as well.

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