Return to Campus FAQ: Fall 2021

Listed below are UWOFA's answers to common questions concerning preparations for September. Western has announced it will require all members of the university community to either be fully vaccinated before returning to campus or undergo regular Covid-19 testing. The new vaccination policy is under development, and information posted below in response to Questions 1-4 will likely be superseded soon by new information relating to that policy.

UWOFA will continue updating the FAQ, so do check back regularly for more questions and answers.

Q1: I don't feel safe teaching in person unless Western requires students, staff, and faculty be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Can I refuse to come to work?
Q2: I am scheduled to teach in person this fall. Can I teach the course over Zoom instead?
Q3: I am being asked to book meetings on campus in the fall, but I don't feel safe doing so without a Covid-19 vaccine mandate. What can I do?
Q4: What if my Chair/Dean denies my requests to teach and attend meetings online?
Q5: I am/my partner/my child is immunocompromised. Can I get an accommodation to continue working remotely?
Q6: Are all rooms/buildings on campus properly ventilated?

Q1: I don't feel safe teaching in person unless Western requires students, staff, and faculty be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Can I refuse to come to work?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) provides an individual with the right to refuse unsafe work provided that certain processes are followed. If you have a reason to believe that your health and safety is in danger, you can, in good faith, refuse to work. It is likely that the presence of a person in the workplace who has Covid-19 would be a circumstance that could put a worker’s health and safety in danger. In addition, a work refusal could be justified if an employer is not taking reasonable measures to reduce the risk of exposure and transmission by, for example, not enforcing mask requirements and proper social distancing protocols.

However, you cannot just walk off the job. You must follow the procedures laid out in the OHSA. You must contact your “supervisor” (department Chair or Dean) and state that you are refusing work under the OHSA and provide details of the refusal. Your supervisor must investigate your refusal with you and a UWOFA representative from the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee present.  If, after your supervisor’s investigation, you have reasonable grounds to continue your refusal, you, UWOFA’s representative, or the employer may contact the Ministry of Labour at 1-877-202-0008. An inspector will investigate and issue a decision.

Work refusals are heavily dependent on the unique facts of each particular case and the information provided to the investigator. Experience to date is that the Ministry has dismissed nearly all work refusals involving employees concerned about working during the COVID-19 pandemic. To support a worker’s assertion of their right to refuse unsafe work, it is important to direct the employer and the Ministry to the specific elements of a given situation that may support the worker’s claim, such as whether the worker is being denied adequate personal protective equipment or social distancing rules are not being respected. Generalized claims are unlikely to be upheld.

Q2: I am scheduled to teach in person this fall. Can I teach the course over Zoom instead?

At this time, we recommend advising your Dean/Chair that you intend to teach your class on Zoom instead of in person. You could include a statement that it is your understanding that you would be fulfilling your academic responsibilities by teaching online. Your notice could conclude with an invitation to the Chair/Dean to contact you if there are any concerns, which puts the onus on Chairs/Deans to formally force you to teach in person or accept that teaching remotely fulfills your academic responsibilities as it has for the past 18 months.

Some members may have individual reasons for needing to teach using Zoom, such as the presence of an unvaccinated family member at home or an underlying health condition that legitimately prevents them from being vaccinated. Such circumstances may trigger a requirement to accommodate such persons pursuant to the Ontario Human Rights Code. If such circumstances exist, you may wish to consult with your UWOFA representative to discuss how you can provide the administration with the information it may need to consider such a request.

Q3: I am being asked to book meetings on campus this fall, but I don't feel safe doing so without a Covid-19 vaccine mandate. What can I do?

As the answer to Question 2 indicates, UWOFA recommends working with your Chair/Dean to stress that you are able to fulfill your academic responsibilities by attending meetings online.

Q4: What if my Chair/Dean denies my requests to teach and attend meetings online?

You can contact UWOFA for assistance. You may be required to comply with your Chair/Dean unless there is a reasonable risk to your health and safety as defined above, or you require a workplace accommodation.

If you do not comply with your Chair/Dean’s request, there is a possibility that the administration may take disciplinary action. UWOFA remains hopeful that, under these uncertain circumstances, our members’ concerns can be worked out without the imposition of such discipline. If the administration takes action that is unreasonable or unjustified, UWOFA will consider whether to engage the grievance procedure to challenge such action.

Q5: I am/my partner/my child is immunocompromised. Can I get an accommodation to continue working remotely?

If you have medical or compassionate grounds for not teaching in person (e.g., you are at elevated health risk due to your age or underlying health conditions, or you live with or care for someone with underlying health concerns) you must be accommodated. The employer must offer options - which may include teaching remotely - but the employer is not obligated to allow you to teach remotely. For members requesting family accommodation, the employer has offered the following options: 1) Rebalance workload over time, for example not teaching this fall but picking up more courses next year or in the winter term; 2) temporarily reduce workload subject to an equivalent reduction in pay. These are legitimate accommodation options.

UWOFA’s Professional Officer can advise on this process which will include input from your health care professional and advice from Rehabilitation Services at Western.

Q6: Are all classrooms on campus properly ventilated?

According to a classroom-by-classroom analysis recently released by Western, 99% of rooms have ideal or excellent ratings for the number of air exchanges per hour. Five to six exchanges is rated excellent, and more than 6 is considered ideal. The university has also upgraded its air filters to MERV 13 (minimum efficiency reporting value), where possible, and added air purifiers in certain areas such as music performance rooms. Read about your classroom(s) here


Please contact UWOFA with any questions: uwofa [at] uwo [dot] ca