COVID VACCINES AND THE WORKPLACE

Covid has cost the Canadian economy hundreds of billions of dollars to date. And after more than a year, finally, there’s light at the end of what seemed like a very dark and endless tunnel. Vaccines have made their ways into the arms of individuals who want it. We all know, the sooner everyone is vaccinated, the sooner we can all return confidently to our workplace, to schools, to gyms, to restaurants operating at full capacity, etc. And yet, not everyone is eager or rushing to get vaccinated.  

To get the vaccine or not, that is the billion-dollar question. Choosing to be vaccinated is at the discretion of each individual and it remains a personal choice.

In the workplace, Covid vaccinations fall under the realm of health and safety. As an employer, what does this mean to you? Can employers mandate employees to get vaccinated? What if the employee says “no”? And if they refuse, what are your rights as an employer? 

The simple answer is employers cannot mandate their employees to get vaccinated unless there is a bona fide reason. Depending on the industry, a bona fide reason may apply to the following scenarios:

  • Employees who have to work in close contact with one another and where social distancing is not possible e.g., assembly lines
  • Meat or food packaging plants
  • Hospitality e.g., restaurants where they are working with the public and serve food

While mandatory vaccinations aren’t legislated, it doesn’t mean employers can’t take steps to urge their workers to get vaccinated. For example, employers may consider encouraging vaccinations in the workplace by including it in its company policies such as:

  • Health and Safety Policy Plan
  • Employment Agreements or Promotion Agreements
  • Employee Policy Handbook/Code of Conduct

Please keep in mind that every policy must take into consideration the employee’s privacy rights and human rights legislation. As such, exceptions and/or accommodations must be made for the following groups up to the point of undue hardship:

  • People with disabilities or medical conditions that prevent them from receiving the vaccine
  • Religious reasons
  • Pregnant women

Many companies have also taken a different approach in order to encourage employees to get vaccinated. They’ve opted to reward behaviour by offering the following incentives:

  • Give employees paid time off to go get vaccinated
  • Offer gift cards to all employees who can prove that they have been vaccinated
  • Employees who can prove they have been vaccinated can enter a draw to win a grand prize
  • Give employees cash bonuses if they can prove they have been vaccinated

If you as the employer do all these things and your employee(s) are still refusing to get vaccinated, what should, or could you do at this point? You are well within your rights to ask your employee(s) to:

  • Work from home (if it is possible)
  • Continue to wear personal protective equipment in the workplace
  • Maintain physical distancing in the workplace

Although there’s no quick and definitive answer to this important issue and every scenario should be determined on a case-by-case basis, the best way to ensure a safe and healthy workplace will depend on whether or not employees get vaccinated.

Encouraging people who can receive the vaccine is ultimately protecting the people who can’t for example, children, people with medical disabilities, etc.

A vaccinated workplace is a safer workplace.

Lisa Trinh is a Partner of HR4U and certified human resources professional. If you have any questions or if you would like to get in touch with her, she can be reached at lisa@hr4u.work.

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