Vaccine violence: How to train employees to deal with anti-vaxxers

Vaccine passports are causing riots – here's how HR can help

Vaccine violence: How to train employees to deal with anti-vaxxers

As more provinces roll out their own versions of vaccine passports, the divide between the vaxxed and the un-vaxxed grows ever wider. According to a recent Leger survey, tensions between the two groups is at an all-time high – with this spilling over into the workplace for many Canadians. Recently, reports of vaccine passport violence, of customers abusing employees who ask them for proof of jab, is on the rise – as restaurants bosses urge the public not to ‘take it out on us’.

HRD caught up with Michelle McKinnon, partner at McMillan, who explained some ways Canadian employers can upskill their teams and help them deal with irate anti-vaxxers in their businesses.

Duty of care

“The implementation of vaccine passports in Canada has been met with mixed reactions,” she told HRD. “For example, we’ve seen mass protests outside of hospitals in British Columbia. We’ve also seen media reports about customers directing their anger or aggression at employees who work at establishments where vaccine passports are legally required. There’s a few things employers should consider in terms of supporting employees who’re likely to be the recipient of customer anger or aggression.

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“Firstly, it’s important to bear in mind that employers have a legal obligation to ensure a healthy and safe workplace. While these obligations differ between Canadian provinces and territories, this obligation generally extends to ensuring that a workplace is free from any form of violence. In British Columbia, an employer’s obligation with respect to violence in the workplace includes providing information to employees about the risk of violence in the workplace. It also includes an obligation to provide instruction and training on, among other things, the appropriate response to incidents of violence, including how to obtain assistance.”

Training and upskilling

All Canadian employers have a duty of care to ensure their workplaces are as safe as possible. And while employers can’t ensure that customers always play nice, they have to take steps to minimize potential risks. McKinnon suggested reviewing health and safety measures across the board, while simultaneously training employees on how to deal with aggressive situations. This training should include guidance on;

  • the circumstances in which anger or aggression from a customer is most likely to occur and how to best respond to the customer’s anger or aggression. Anger or aggression will most likely occur because a customer is not familiar with vaccine passport requirements or because of a misunderstanding with respect to how the requirements apply to the customer. See further comments below on this point.
  • the assistance available to employees should a violent incident occur, such as contacting local law enforcement.
  • the availability of first aid at the workplace and who to contact in the event of an emergency.
  • the process an employee should follow to report incidents of violence in the workplace.

“With respect to the first point above, as anger or aggression is most likely to occur because of a lack of knowledge or a misunderstanding on vaccine passport requirements, I would recommend that employers provide regular training to employees about vaccine passport requirements as they apply to the employer’s business,” added McKinnon. “The situation is fluid and employees should be up to date on current Public Health Orders as they apply to vaccine passports. For example, in British Columbia a vaccine passport is required to access certain non-essential events, services and businesses. There is an exemption from the Order for persons under 12 years of age when accompanied by a vaccinated adult. British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer has indicated that there will be no exemptions from the Order for persons who are unable to get vaccinated for any reason, even if they are unable to do so for medical and/or religious reasons protected under the British Columbia Human Rights Code.”

Anti-vaxxers in the workplace

As with most things in HR, education is always the key to success. Whether you’re rolling out a new training program or helping someone make a decision on whether or not to be vaccinated – HR leaders have a new, but intrinsic, role to play in the return-to-work plan. A recent report from Kings College London found that 33% of employees believe those who disagree or discourage others to have the vaccine are selfish – with 41% viewing them as ‘stupid’. Yet despite this, 13% of people said they respect anti-vaxers. With people on both sides feeling so strongly about the issue, bad feeling can easily spill out into the workplace.

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Speaking to Kelly Davis, chief people officer at Sunwing, she found the best way of dealing with the vaccine push back was through one-on-one sessions and digital learning. 

“Our big focus as has been on providing education,” she told HRD “We launched employee sessions all through the last year - each hosted by our chief medical advisor. We have a really great eLearning course on vaccinations too. Recently I said to our leaders that if an employee is really trying to make the decision on whether or not to be vaccinated, and they feel they don't have enough information, we should offer them a private session with our chief medical advisor.

“I want to make sure people don't feel like we're just rolling with the policies in black and white with no room for discussion. It’s my aim to get our people the necessary information and give them the education.”

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