Arbitrator finds nurses were 'unreasonably' fired for rejecting COVID vaccines

James Hayes, the sole arbitrator in the case from Quinte, Ont., ruled the nurses 'should have been placed on unpaid leaves of absence' over non-compliance with the initial 'fully vaccinated' two-dose requirement.

Arbitrator finds nurses were 'unreasonably' fired for rejecting COVID vaccines
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An arbitrator has ruled nine nurses who were fired over their refusal to take a pair of COVID-19 vaccinations should be reinstated, deeming their termination “unreasonable.”

In the decision, James Hayes, the sole arbitrator in the case from Quinte, Ont., found the nurses “should have been placed on unpaid leaves of absence” over non-compliance with the initial “fully vaccinated” two-dose requirement, CTV News reports.

Instead, the terminated nurses were flagged for “misconduct.” This meant not only was it difficult for them to find new nursing jobs, but they were also cut off their access to unemployment insurance or other support systems.

Despite the harsh mandates placed on healthcare staff, Hayes described the policy as “well-motivated, driven as it was by genuine safety concerns.”

Unfortunately for the fired nurses, they are still left fighting for lost wages. Howard Goldblatt, who represented the nurses on behalf of the Ontario Nurses Union (ONA), told CTV discussions between the ONA and Quinte Health officials are ongoing.

“I'm hoping that, to the extent that we can get these nurses back into the workplace, the doors will be open and they'll come back,” Goldblatt told CTV.

Hayes's ruling differs from another Ontario arbitrator's decision, which found Lakeridge Health in Durham Region was justified when it fired two nurses and two administrative staffers who refused to comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

A comment from a Quinte Health spokesperson to CTV defended the hospital's decision, but acknowledged the arbitrator's ruling: 

Like many Ontario hospitals, Quinte Health put in place a mandatory vaccine policy during the pandemic as a proactive measure to protect healthcare workers, prevent transmission, maintain healthcare capacity, promote public health, and fulfill our ethical obligation to prioritize patient safety and well-being. The decision …..concluded the impacted nurses should have been put on an unpaid leave of absence. Quinte Health respects the arbitrator’s ruling and will work with our ONA partners on next steps.

A December 2023 statement from the ONA highlighted the province's dire shortage of nurses, citing an Auditor General's report.

Raphael Gomez, director of the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Relations at the University of Toronto, told CTV that new research he is preparing showed upwards of 10% of nurses in Ontario quit on their own or retired early because of vaccine mandates.

“Whether in primary care or in our long-term care sector, the nursing shortage was clearly identified in the Auditor’s Report as an issue that needs to be rectified across our province,” ONA president Erin Ariss said in December.


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