Vaccine mandates may prove costly for Canada’s biggest banks if they face reluctant ranks. 

The country’s largest lenders released stricter return-to-office policies last week that left some key questions around COVID-19 vaccinations unanswered -- notably, the consequences for employees who refuse to comply. 

“The general law is that you’re allowed to bring in a vaccine mandate, subject to exceptions for religious or health concerns,” said Andrew Monkhouse, an employment lawyer with Toronto’s Monkhouse Law. A company could fire an employee who refuses to get a shot and doesn’t have a valid exemption, he said, “but they need to pay them severance, which could be quite expensive.”

A worker fired “without cause” in Canada could receive anywhere from three to 24 months of pay, which is fairly generous compared to the U.S., he said. 

“That’s why businesses are not saying they’ll terminate people,” Monkhouse said. “Some are saying they’ll do a high level of testing because that gets around that issue.” It’s a different situation if the workers are unionized and their union agrees vaccinations should be mandatory. In that case a worker could be fired without pay for refusing to comply, he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this month that Canada would mandate COVID-19 vaccines for air and rail passengers and employees, public servants and other categories of federally regulated workers, many of whom are unionized.


The federal move, and the fact that most Canadians favour mandatory vaccinations, made it easier for banks to announce similar measures, said David Zweig, an associate professor at the University of Toronto. 

While there might be some legal challenges, pressure from the banks may also prove more effective in Canada where society’s expectations around vaccinations are largely homogeneous.

“This isn’t going to move the anti-vaxxers, but it may move the people who are more vaccine hesitant,” Zweig said. “They can use it as an excuse to say: ‘Well, I didn’t really want to do it, but my employer made me.’”