Toronto flu vaccine: 1,300 employees face disciplinary action

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Parents are claiming that the government is overreaching in its mandate

The first batch of more than 1,300 Toronto city employees will begin receiving disciplinary notices next week as the government implements its decision to suspend flu vaccinations for city employees, reports say.

The initial reduction in health services comes in response to a December 2017 court challenge from the Canadian city’s human resources department.

One employee is estimated to be issued notices and another 40,000 staffers have been notified of the changes.

Toronto’s ruling government approved a policy in May to offer the flu shots to city workers who contract the flu during or after vaccination, or when making home visits.

But the government added that anyone who “intentionally”, “definitely” or “substantially submits” for vaccination can receive disciplinary action or lose medical benefits.

The original motion added that disciplinary action would be based on culpability and compliance.

The documents also specify that the city will take “significant disciplinary action” against employees who violate the new policy – including termination, demotion, suspension or dismissals.

The regulations say, “The city reserves the right to take disciplinary action against all employees who knowingly accept, without requiring permission, to work with persons who are unvaccinated for the influenza vaccine.”

One of the city’s most senior lawyers, Robert Small, has already expressed disappointment that these codes of conduct are now on the books.

“Whatever Toronto decides to do, this policy will be driven by its lawyers and chosen for it’s immutability, discretion and apparent lack of relevance to the realities of any given situation,” he told the Toronto Star.

City employees who had obtained the flu vaccine as of September 7 will be entitled to medical benefits once they complete their suspension, while those who had not – from 4 September 2018 to 15 November – will receive occupational health benefits, assuming they qualify.

Influenza vaccine offers little or no protection against the most serious virus strains

However, if an employee is diagnosed with the flu, they will not be able to receive medical care or any prescribed medications, except to slow their symptoms.

Sixteen organizations across Ontario had challenged the Toronto government’s decision, which was approved last week.

An Ontario Superior Court judge ruled in favour of Toronto’s government on the stand in September and upheld the policy.

The province’s lawyers argue that the first deadline for city employees to obtain the flu vaccine passed in February and the original 11 October deadline passed in October.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says the deadline should not have been set because no changes had been made to public health services or delivery of flu vaccine to the public.

The delays in administering flu shots to city employees have also been criticised by the Canada Hospitals Association, a patient advocacy group.

More than a quarter of acute-care hospitals in Ontario have reported to CHA that flu clinics have been cancelled because of a shortage of flu vaccines.

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