Home Arbitration/Labour Relations ‘Laudable and appropriate’: Arbitrator dismisses grievances against Coca-Cola from worker who refused to disclose vaccination status

‘Laudable and appropriate’: Arbitrator dismisses grievances against Coca-Cola from worker who refused to disclose vaccination status

by HR Law Canada

An Ontario arbitrator has dismissed a number of grievances filed against Coca-Cola over its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.

The case, centered around Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Ltd.’s facility in London, Ont. The policy, introduced in October 2021, required employees to disclose their vaccination status and to be fully vaccinated.

MH, a driver/merchandiser at the London facility, was terminated in October 2021 for refusing to disclose his vaccination status, citing privacy concerns. He was later reinstated in March 2023, but the grievances relating to the vaccination policy and his suspensions remained unresolved.

Four key issues

The arbitration addressed four key issues:

  1. The appropriateness of requiring MH to disclose his vaccination status.
  2. The overall appropriateness of the company’s vaccination policy.
  3. The validity of MH’s one, three, and five-day suspensions.
  4. MH’s claim for backpay following his termination.

Arbitrator’s findings

Arbitrator Norm Jesin, referencing the expert medical opinion of Dr. Mark Loeb, found the vaccination policy to be reasonable and necessary for workplace safety amid the pandemic.

The company’s approach to regularly reviewing the policy was deemed responsible and in line with public health guidelines.

MH’s refusal to disclose his vaccination status was considered insubordinate, justifying his suspensions, said Jesin.

“I find that the Grievor’s refusal to disclose his vaccination status to the Company was insubordinate and worthy of discipline,” said Jesin.

The demand for disclosure of vaccination status was “reasonable as the pandemic raged, labour shortages were experienced and customers demanded interaction with vaccinated drivers/merchandisers,” the arbitrator said.

The request for backpay was denied, as the arbitrator found the suspensions and termination to be for just cause. The Union sought to equate MH’s status with other unvaccinated workers, who disclosed their status when required to do so and were not placed on leave until January 2022.

“While employees who remained unvaccinated in January 2022 were ultimately placed on unpaid leaves of absence, they were not insubordinate in their completion of the Daily Check-In questionnaire,” said Jesin.

“The disclosure of their unvaccinated status permitted the gradual implementation of the Policy which combined targeted education and increasing health and safety precautions that were directed specifically at unvaccinated employees.”

‘Laudable and appropriate’

The arbitrator emphasized the minimal privacy intrusion posed by disclosing vaccination status compared to the significant public health benefits.

It ruled that Coca-Cola’s policy was reasonable, as was its continued imposition up to its withdrawal in April 2023. It called the company’s reliance on expert scientific advice “laudable and appropriate.”

The grievances were dismissed in their entirety.

For more information, see United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 175 v Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Limited, 2023 CanLII 109733 (ON LA)

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