An increasing number of Canadian workplaces have decided to make vaccination a requirement for a return to in-person work. The reasons for doing so are compelling. Vaccines help prevent serious illness from COVID-19 and, as recognized by the British Columbia Human Rights Commission, help protect those who are medically vulnerable and who may be at increased risk from contracting the virus.
The federal government has announced that all federal public servants and those working in federal Crown corporations must be vaccinated by the end of October, if not sooner. Here in British Columbia, staff in long-term care and seniors assisted living facilities must also be fully vaccinated by October 12.
No one can force another person to accept a vaccine. An employer may require its employees to be vaccinated as part of its duty to ensure workplace health and safety and may impose consequences on an employee who decides not to receive the vaccine. However, in creating and enforcing a vaccination requirement, an employer must take care to comply with relevant employment and human rights laws, as well as any employment contracts or collective agreements that may be in place.
Outside of government-mandated industries (for example in British Columbia, long-term care and government employees), mandatory vaccine policies can be a risky move for businesses. While the issue has not been completely resolved, early rulings suggest that refusing a vaccine may not be accepted as just cause for termination for employment, which means that the affected employee would be entitled to reasonable notice of dismissal or compensation in lieu.
If you are an employer contemplating a mandatory vaccine policy, a clear written policy is essential as well as a communication and employee relations strategy that is flexible and makes sense. Given the rapidly changing developments in this area, we recommend that businesses closely monitor any developments/changes after implementing these policies and be prepared to pivot. Obtaining qualified legal advice on this rapidly developing issue is essential.
If you are an employee facing an unpaid leave of absence and/or termination from employment for a refusal to accept the COVID-19 vaccine, we strongly recommend that you obtain legal advice as you may be entitled to reasonable notice of dismissal or compensation in lieu (i.e. severance pay). The amount of notice to which you would be entitled is based on an individual assessment of your particular circumstances.
Disclaimer: This fact sheet is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice or opinions of any kind. We encourage you to seek legal advice from an employment lawyer for guidance about your particular workplace.