Do we need them? Should we have them? How do they affect the workplace?
With the fourth wave of Covid-19 upon us, our Provincial Government, Federal Government and Health Authorities, have implemented new policies and processes regarding vaccination.
Currently, on account of Public Health Orders, employees in some BC health care facilities are now required to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Similarly, members of the public are required to be vaccinated to access many non-essential services, such as recreational facilities, table-service restaurants, and group fitness. Vaccination of Federal Government employees will soon be mandated, as will all Federally regulated worksites such a those in the air, rail, marine and transport industries.
This leaves the question, what about our workplace? What should employers do to meet their obligations for a safe work environment and what rights do employees have to oppose or opt out of vaccinations? The answer (like most answers a lawyer will provide) is “it depends.”
Currently there is no BC legislation that requires employees to be vaccinated or employers to implement a mandatory vaccination policy. However, there is an obligation to ensure a safe work environment. Under occupational health and safety regulations, every employer must ensure the health and safety of all workers and all persons present in the workplace. Similarly, there is an obligation on employees to report any unsafe work hazards to WorkSafe BC.
For employers seeking to implement a mandatory vaccination policy, an employer must consider:
a) whether this policy is required for the work to be completed in the workplace,
b) if failing to implement a mandatory vaccination poses risk to the health and safety of employees or persons that access your workplace, or
c) if alternative measures will ensure employee and workplace safety short of requiring vaccination.
Your answers will determine whether a mandatory vaccination policy is the right fit for your workplace and will depend on the nature of the industry, the level of risk associated with not being vaccinated, and whether other options such as enhanced Covid-safety measures (i.e. personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning protocols, remote work, or limited public access) will satisfy these obligations. If you are implementing a mandatory vaccination policy, do seek legal advice. There are many considerations including a duty to accommodate employees who are unable to be vaccinated.
It is important that in implementing any workplace policies that those policies do not overstep or infringe on the protected rights of employees.
An employee has the right to not be vaccinated, but that choice does not always protect an employee in the workplace if vaccination is deemed necessary. An employee is entitled to accommodation when health limitations or religious observance are present. However, the nature of accommodation does not necessarily include a right to be present in the workplace and may require the employee to make alternate work arrangements. If you are an employee who is subject to a mandatory vaccination policy, it is important to obtain legal advice to understand your rights and how you are protected.