As more COVID-19 vaccinations become available for Canadians, many business owners may be looking forward to opening up again and relaxing some pandemic safety guidelines. However, there is likely much confusion about mandating vaccines and how immunizations can protect the workplace.
The Legality of Vaccine Mandates
In most cases, employers are within their legal rights to require employees to be vaccinated. Getting the vaccination can be a condition of employment. However, there are some exceptions to consider.
Under human rights law, employees with medical conditions or religious convictions that prohibit them from being vaccinated should be exempt from the vaccination policy. It is in the employers’ best interest to speak with these workers and determine if these circumstances are legitimate. If so, they should find ways to accommodate the workers. Some options include allowing the employees to work remotely or moving the employees to spaces that require little to no contact with other employees or clients. Employers may also require that the workers continue to use personal protective equipment, such as masks, even if the law no longer demands it.
Non-unionized & Unionized Company Employee Requirements
In a non-unionized company, new employees may be required to be vaccinated before they are hired. Current employees can be terminated for refusal to get vaccinated if they do not qualify for the exemptions outlined above. However, in that case, workers may be eligible for severance pay. Employers could place the workers in question on administrative leave, but those workers may argue that such a move is essentially a constructive dismissal. Before setting a vaccination policy, employers should weigh all the consequences related to staffing and finances, as well as employee morale.
In a unionized company, a vaccine mandate may violate the collective bargaining agreement. But there may be instances in which a vaccination policy is considered reasonable; an example might include workers in a healthcare setting.
Companies that opt to set a vaccination policy should follow these guidelines:
- Communicate to employees the importance of vaccination and how it keeps everyone safer
- Explain how their vaccination information will be collected and securely stored
- Provide details for those who have exemptions and require accommodation
- Make it clear if vaccination is a condition of employment or if it is only encouraged
- For encouraged but not mandated vaccinations, offer incentives as appropriate
- Discuss the issue with the union, as applicable, before any policy is announced
Knowledge of Employee Vaccination
Even if it does not set a vaccine mandate, a company may wish to know how many of its employees are vaccinated. If so, employers can request that information from their workers, but they must ensure that the details will be kept confidential and workers will not be treated differently based on their vaccine status. If the employer wishes to tell clients that their company is “completely vaccinated,” employees will have to consent for that information to be made public.
Screening Customers and Other Visitors
In the interest of safeguarding employees and workspaces, some employers may want to collect vaccination information from customers or others who visit the site. This practice is legal, as long as the visitors grant permission, the vaccine details are kept secure and confidential, and the documentation is destroyed when it is no longer necessary. It is best to collect as little personal information as possible. If patrons opt not to disclose this information, businesses can still interact with them by accommodating them with personal protective equipment or curbside services.
Necessary Precautions After Vaccination
After employees are vaccinated, they may be eager to shed their masks and stop social distancing practices. However, these COVID-19 guidelines have not changed in Canada, so business owners should ensure that all employees continue to follow government health and safety protocols, no matter what their vaccination status is.
Canada Employment Lawyer Legal Assistance
The issue of employee vaccination has many complexities, and it can be challenging for employers to maneuver all the ways their companies can be affected. Business owners are encouraged to consult legal counsel with any questions or concerns they have, especially as they create a COVID-19 vaccination policy. A seasoned labour attorney can review each company’s circumstances and provide the appropriate guidance for employers and their employees.