Several of Canada’s major accounting firms are dropping vaccine requirements for staff as COVID-19 cases wane and governments across the country ease public health measures.
KPMG, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers are the latest in a string of major white-collar employers to reverse their COVID-19 policies for employees, letting staff work in the office without needing to confirm their vaccination status or face additional safety measures.
Like many Bay Street firms, the trio introduced strict vaccination policies for staff in September as the Delta variant struck the country. But as COVID-19 cases dwindled and government-issued restrictions ended, major employers have begun undoing their rules in response.
Ernst & Young Canada dropped its vaccine policies for offices and sponsored events on June 1, though the company said its employees could still be asked to confirm their fully vaccinated status if requested by clients.
Starting June 15, KPMG says it will retire its office vaccine policy “in accordance with recent changes to public health guidelines,” allowing staff to work in the office without being asked to confirm their vaccination status or face additional safety measures.
PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada removed its COVID-19 protocols in April, shortly after provincial governments lifted vaccine mandates. As workers return to the office, the company said it will have floors for mask-wearers and floors for people who are comfortable without them.
Deloitte, the fourth of Canada’s Big Four accounting firms, lifted its vaccine policy in March.
The Big Four employ more than 30,000 Canadians, offering consulting and auditing services to a range of businesses across the country. While most of that work can be done remotely, the companies pursued mandatory vaccinations for staff in part to help staff meet face-to-face with clients back in 2021.
Some businesses have been reluctant to lift vaccine requirements in case of another wave of infections, but private companies will have a harder time justifying those mandates as COVID-19 cases drop, said Howard Levitt, a partner and employment lawyer with Levitt Sheikh.
With the easing of government-issued restrictions, private companies are finding it difficult to hold employees to a higher standard than what is required in public life.
“Many businesses with these policies put workers on unpaid leaves because they weren’t vaccinated. And, at the time, those employers could argue that it was the right decision in light of the public health crisis. But that case isn’t as strong as it was a few months ago,” said Levitt.
All of Canada’s Big Five banks dropped their vaccination policies in April and May.
Over the weekend, Ontario lifted most of the remaining mask mandates in the province, including on public transit.
The province also reported its lowest COVID-19 test positivity rate in six months last week.
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