Given the advancing stage of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in British Columbia, and with many employees returning to shared workspaces under loosened health and safety restrictions, employers should be thinking about how to approach vaccination issues in the workplace. What communications to provide to employees about vaccinations, including implementation of policies, and how to ensure new governmental mandatory vaccination requirements are met are key issues for employers.
In light of the responsibility on employers to keep the workplace safe, it will be advisable for most employers to have a vaccination policy. However, the content of such policies will be heavily dependent on the particular work environment, including the individuals in the workplace. Workplace vaccination policies could range from being informational only to encouraging employees to get vaccinated, all the way to requiring vaccinations.
Generally speaking, it will be rare that mandatory vaccine policies by employers will be permissible, due to the contractual, privacy and human rights of employees that such policies engage. Yet, recent government announcements mean that some employers will have no choice but to compel at least some of their employees to get vaccinated.
The B.C. government will now require workers in long-term care homes and assisted living facilities to be fully vaccinated by October 12. According to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, vaccine protection will be a condition of employment for such workers.
When the federal government announced recently that it was mandating vaccines for federal government employees, it stated that it expected federally regulated private sector employers to do the same, indicating that such an obligation would be legislated in the near future. While most employers in B.C. are provincially regulated, there are many businesses over which the federal government has jurisdiction that will be impacted by the federal government’s plan including those in the banking, shipping and air transportation industries and many First Nations activities.
The federal government also plans to introduce legislation requiring all commercial air travelers in Canada be fully vaccinated no later than October. We anticipate that such legislation will provide exemptions for those who have legitimate reasons for not being vaccinated, and require alternative protocols similar to those currently in place (like masking, social distancing and pre-boarding testing).
Businesses who have employees that travel by air for work should, at a minimum, release a communication to employees about the new federal requirements. The communication should be as factual as possible to avoid the appearance that the employer is mandating the vaccine, but should require employees to comply with the new legislation. Situations where employees cannot or will not abide by the legislation should be dealt with on a case by case basis.
For assistance with vaccination issues in the workplace, please contact Clark Wilson LLP’s Employment & Labour Group.