City of Toronto workers suspended over failure to meet vaccination rules

‘A disgusting breach of trust’, says health worker after 178 other city employees also fired

At least 248 city of Toronto employees have been suspended without pay after failing to comply with a health and safety directive to show proof of vaccination against enterovirus 73.

“[Vaccination] is a vaccine that protects against a disease,” said Jan Langbein, a community health worker who has vaccinated children for free at homes across the city.

“You’re putting children at risk if you’re not vaccinating them and you’re setting your children at risk and you’re causing the serious health concerns that adults can have if they get enterovirus.”

[Vaccination] is a vaccine that protects against a disease. You’re putting children at risk if you’re not vaccinating them and you’re setting your children at risk and you’re causing the serious health concerns that adults can have if they get enterovirus Jan Langbein, community health worker

The city ordered those 248 employees to show proof of up-to-date vaccinations, but the health authority has since announced that 369 of them did not submit vaccination records, as required by new legislation aimed at reducing deaths and preventing disabilities from enterovirus-related respiratory infections.

“This means they are not eligible for compensation by the [Toronto public health authority] and they are entitled to unpaid time off from work,” said Bev Glazebrook, an administrator with the health authority.

Under the new legislation, which comes into effect in December, public employers must provide vaccination records to workers claiming sick leave after an enterovirus-related respiratory illness diagnosis.

“The purpose of those vaccination records is to support a public claim for compensation under the Sick Leave Act,” said Glazebrook.

An official with the city would not confirm the number of absent employees, but the issue is emerging as a conflict of interest for the city. The city’s health department, the primary authority for making decisions on worker compensation, also oversees the city’s health services.

That raises concerns that the city may be obstructing workers who may have been injured after being exposed to enterovirus.

“If it wasn’t [under the health authority] then no,” said Langbein. “What I would think is that if we are going to be mandated to comply with that by law, we need to be doing the work that we’re supposed to be doing.”

Langbein, who is in her second stint as a community health worker, began working at the Richmond Hill health clinic in 1988. She has traveled with other health workers to provide free immunizations across the city.

“It’s a license for me to go where there’s no insurance and give the vaccine that I’ve been trained to give to someone,” she said.

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Glazebrook said an initial review of 72 data files showed that 214 of the 379 employees that filed had not completed their vaccination records or showed proof of vaccinations. The health authority has since reviewed the remaining files and, as of Tuesday, issued all 248 employees with suspension letters.

“TPS has an obligation to provide public protection by keeping residents safe,” said Glazebrook, adding that the decision to issue suspensions with pay was reviewed by the health authority’s finance division.

Langbein said she had not received a suspension letter, but was certain she would get one.

“I’m saying that it’s wrong and I really do care about that,” she said. “I’m not just saying that it’s wrong because it’s wrong. I’m saying that it’s wrong because I want my colleagues not to be forced to do the work that I don’t do.”

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