This is why some Ontario businesses won’t be ditching proof of vaccination policies come March

Last week, the Ontario government announced its intention to lift proof of vaccination requirements alongside capacity limits in almost all public settings across the province on March 1.

The policy, which requires Ontarians to provide proof they’ve had at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter select settings, has been in place in Ontario since late September. Vaccine requirements in industries such as long-term care and health care will remain in place for now.

A release issued by the Ontario government last week states that, while the requirement to implement proof of vaccination policies will be lifted, businesses may opt to keep them in place.

And some businesses are choosing to do just that — Michelle Palmer, the owner and operator of Pause Beauty, located on Bloor Street West, says that although the personal care sector was not originally included in the requirement to implement proof-of-vaccination programs, her business will continue to require their customers be fully vaccinated past March 1.

“It’s always been an opt-in situation for us,” Palmer told CTV News Toronto. “I’ve had to make those decisions myself.”

She says that from a business standpoint, her biggest concern remains the safety of her staff. From a personal standpoint, however, she has other reasons.

“I’m the mother and wife of two high-risk immunocompromised people, so I’m just making sure that I have every possible level of protection in place against a virus that, ultimately, could kill my child.”

Palmer says a majority of her customers have been willing to comply with the policy.

Dr. Chris MacDonald, professor of ethics at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management, said that businesses are within their rights to keep these types of programs in place and that, depending on the circumstances, it may be the right decision.

”This is, after all, still a pandemic,” MacDonald told CTV News Toronto Wednesday. “People are still getting sick and some people are being hospitalized.”

He said there are a myriad of reasons why businesses might opt to keep these policies in place.

“Business owners may choose to be cautious out of concern for individuals — whether it’s themselves or their employees or customers who are especially vulnerable — and you might be the owner (or) operator of a small shop, but also caring for vulnerable elderly parents at home.”

When asked about the ethical concerns related to turning away the unvaccinated after mandates are lifted, MacDonald said that “the law doesn’t establish what’s ethical.”

“Just because the mandate has been lifted doesn’t mean that business owners are required to let unvaccinated people in, it just means they’re no longer required to stop them from entering,” he added.

He said, however, there’s always room for concern when patrons are going to be denied service.

“But, given how readily available, safe and effective vaccines have been up to this point, and given that people have had months to get their affairs in order, it would be pretty hard for someone to claim [keeping the policy] would be unreasonable.”

Amanda Munday, owner of The Workaround, a co-working space and childcare centre located on the Danforth, said that because she’s working with the age cohort of zero to five, it doesn’t make sense for her business to lift the proof of vaccination policy.

“We’ve always taken a stricter stance with regards to COVID-19 because we’ve always been dealing with vulnerable populations,” she told CTV News Toronto Wednesday. “We have floating cohorts of kids too, so I can’t maintain the same 10 kids a year.”

Munday, unlike Palmer, has experienced backlash as a consequence of her decision. She says the last time she posted on social media about vaccination policies, she was attacked by online “trolls.”

“If they post [negative] reviews to Google, it’s almost impossible to get those taken down,” she said. “It can really affect my business’s SEO and searchability.”

She informed her customers of her decision by newsletter and said she still received some backlash, with some calling it “shameful.”

When asked what Munday would need to see to feel comfortable lifting her proof of vaccination policy, she pointed to a number of trusted sources she turns to for information, including the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, the Toronto District School Board and the COVID-19 data uploaded daily by the province for guidance.

She also said she wouldn’t decide to change the policy without consulting her staff first.

Meanwhile, Palmer says she thinks business owners should consider those immediately around them and make decisions based on what might serve them best.

“I think it’s important to show other business owners who may be considering maintaining a mandate in the face of potential backlash,” she said.

“If there are business owners out there grappling with the same decision, make the choice that’s best for you and the people around you.”