Public servants in Newfoundland and Labrador will have until Dec. 17 to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the provincial government.
The provincial government announced the mandate Friday at a media briefing detailing how it will handle vaccination status as workers transition from working at home to returning to the workplace.
The policy will apply to all provincial government departments, including agencies, boards and commissions. It also applies to employees who serve vulnerable populations, including long-term and personal-care homes, schools and child-care providers, and employees of businesses where the NLVaxPass app is required.
“It’s another tool to help people feel safe,” Premier Andrew Furey said Friday, adding the decision to mandate vaccinations was not made lightly. “Being fully vaccinated protects not just an individual; it protects all of us.”
Furey said the policy also applies to school teachers. He said there is room for accommodation but co-operation is expected, and refusing to comply with the policy could result in an absence without pay. He would not say whether someone could be terminated for declining to be vaccinated.
He added accommodations can also likely be made for people who can do their job from home or another location outside a core government office, and that more on penalties and enforcement is expected to be available in the next week.
The ruling also applies to health-care workers. Deputy Premier Siobhan Coady said it’s the province’s job to make sure people are protected.
“Our health-care system is very, very strong. I know that the medical professionals understand how important it is to get vaccinated, and I would think that they’ll be compliant with this as well.”
Employees and departments will be tasked with keeping an updated list of fully vaccinated employees, as well as making sure guidelines are followed. All documents for proof of vaccination, exemptions or COVID-19 testing will be stored in accordance with the province’s access-to-information and privacy legislation.
Employees who have not provided proof of full vaccination or a granted exemption by Dec. 17 will be considered to be not following policy, says the government.
Employees hired on or after the deadline must be fully vaccinated by the job’s start date. Job offers will be revoked without an approved vaccination or exemption. The rules also apply to onsite workers who work alongside core government workers, such as vendors and contractors.
A person is considered to be fully vaccinated when at least two weeks have passed since an individual’s second dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The policy also includes a COVID-19 testing element that can be applied in certain cases, where a person would have to be tested two times per week at their own cost, but testing will not be required for people who are medically exempt.
Furey said he expects the number of people in this group to be small, so people who aren’t being tested shouldn’t cause a spike in cases or affect health services. People with an allergy to an ingredient in a vaccine or who have a pre-existing condition connected to the vaccine such as myocarditis will likely also be part of group that needs to be frequently tested, he said.
Health Minister John Haggie said getting vaccinated is the best defence against COVID-19, and employers beyond the public service can also expect more guidelines in the future.
Furey said the Dec. 17 date was chosen to allow unvaccinated people time to get two doses of vaccine before the deadline. While some provinces, including Quebec, have had to push their deadlines to allow more workers to be fully vaccinated, he said he hopes that isn’t the case in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“People knew that this was coming, and we’ve given them an extra long runway to get the vaccines that are required,” Furey said.
“Our intention isn’t to change the deadline, but our intention was never to have a deadline to begin with. So we will adapt accordingly … as the virus changes.”
The policy will be reviewed at least every six months, according to the provincial government.