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Canada Post remote employees who were suspended without pay for refusing to get the corporation’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine received good news this week, as a labour arbitrator ruled that the mandate was unreasonable. 

The case was brought by the Union of Postal Communications Employees.

“Canada Post has not established a compelling workplace health and safety interest in mandating vaccines for employees who worked exclusively remotely, where there was no reasonable prospect that in-person work would be required of them,” arbitrator Michelle Flaherty wrote in her ruling.

Flaherty’s decision could set a precedent for future outcomes amongst the extensive grievances filed in 2021 by the Public Service Alliance of Canada against the Trudeau government’s mandatory vaccine policy, as the majority of its members worked remotely. 

The postal union wants the government to be forced to compensate all unvaccinated members suspended without pay for what it argues was an “unreasonable” use of the vaccine mandate for public servants. 

Canada Post’s vaccine mandate took effect in October 2021, around the same time as the rest of the federal public service, which required proof of vaccination from all employees that they had received two doses of the MRNA vaccine or be punished with unpaid leave. 

According to the ruling, the policy’s purpose was to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace, but Flaherty said that remote employees had no reasonable chance of seeing their workplace colleagues because they worked from home. 

“These employees had no reasonable prospect of coming into physical contact with the workplace and I cannot conclude that the primary purpose of the (mandatory vaccination practice) was advanced by requiring their vaccination,” she added.

Flaherty also rejected Canada Post’s argument that it had an interest in providing employees’ with a safe and healthy workplace, primarily by getting them to take two COVID-19 vaccine doses.

“In essence, the Employer’s position is that it can prescribe activities, including medical procedures like vaccination, simply because this could increase the likelihood an employee will be available to work,” she wrote.

“To the extent that any such interest exists, this is outweighed by the important interests at stake for the employees in question, including their privacy and their financial and economic interest in ongoing paid employment.”

Union of Postal Communications Employees did not argue against the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine to stop transmission, nor did it argue against applying the mandate to those of its 1,500 Canada Post employees that it represents who were present in the workplace.  

Upon the mandate coming into effect, 37 UPCE members were suspended without pay for refusing to confirm whether or not they had received two doses of the vaccine, reported the National Post

The union also argued that it was not reasonable for Canada Post to suspend certain employees who could have alternatively worked from home that refused to get vaccinated. However, Flaherty dismissed that argument on the basis that management had the right to decide where employees do their jobs, whether it be in-office or remote. 

“The Employer is not required to accommodate unvaccinated employees so they can work remotely. There is no requirement to adjust an unvaccinated employee’s tasks or to assign parts of their work to other employees. It was not reasonable to expect the Employer to do so,” she wrote.

However, she also dismissed Canada Post’s argument that it was unable to determine which unvaccinated employees were exclusively working remotely to allow for exemptions. 

The ruling, among the first to uphold a federal public service union’s grievance against the government’s vaccine mandate, leaves it up to the parties involved to negotiate how Flaherty’s decision will be implemented regarding compensation for those whom the arbitrator found to be unreasonably suspended.