Vernon lumber giant Tolko mandates vaccine for head office staff

Tolko mandates staff vax

One of Vernon's largest employers will require all staff at its Vernon headquarters to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as staff return to the office in the new year.

Tolko Industries spokesperson Chris Downey says the majority of employees working at the lumber company's Vernon head office are already fully vaccinated.

"We recognize that the building is a gathering place inherently designed to facilitate working and meeting together in close proximity. During the pandemic, we have followed the guidance of the provincial health officer, and by requiring employees and contractors to be vaccinated, we continue to align with scientific experts in public health and safety," he said in an email.

"We've made this decision based on safety and have returned employees to the office in a phased approach as part of our safety plan."

The plan applies only to staff at the Vernon head office. Tolko's various other divisions continue to operate with approved safety programs and no vaccine mandate.

The plan was always to return employees to the office, says Downey.

"This decision ... has been made based on the current recommendations from provincial health authorities, subject matter experts, and our organizational values. With COVID-19 vaccination numbers increasing in Vernon, and a corresponding decline in COVID-19 case numbers, we are now planning for a return to the office."

Tolko expects the vaccination requirement to remain in place indefinitely, and "individuals who cannot fulfill the requirements of their job as a result of this change will be placed on unpaid leave."

Downey says the company has supported temporary remote work arrangements for office employees during the pandemic.

"This was a short-term measure, but it did allow some employees to discuss and arrange long-term remote work agreements with their managers, which would allow for some days in the office and some days working remotely. These new agreements go into effect on Jan. 4, which means those employees will continue to be able to work remotely on a schedule consistent with their agreement."

Despite a somewhat alarmist email sent to Castanet by an anonymous employee, Downey says: "All of this information, including the reasons why we moved to the next stage in our return-to-office plan, has been thoroughly communicated to employees to give them time to make an informed decision."

He says Tolko is committed to maintaining a safe workplace, "which is why we communicated well in advance to give unvaccinated employees time to arrange vaccination or to submit accommodation requests to our HR team."

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