Can Employers Force Staff to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Hope McManus

December 23 2020

Canada has begun administering COVID-19 vaccine shots. Frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff of long-term care homes are being inoculated first. The Public Health Agency of Canada plans to vaccinate all Canadians, who wish to be immunized, by the end of September 2021.

The federal government, and the provinces, have made it clear that getting the vaccine shot will not be mandatory.

This puts employers in a tough spot. While they are required to take all reasonable precautions for the health and safety of employees in the workplace, they cannot infringe on an employee’s human rights.

Can I create a workplace policy making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all my staff?

No. Just like the flu shot, the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory by law. Governments have not made it compulsory due to human rights reasons. You may put your business at risk of a lawsuit if you try to impose a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy in your workplace.

Can I terminate staff who do not get vaccinated?

No. At present, there is no legislation that allows an employer to terminate an employee for not getting a COVID-19 vaccine shot. If you do so, you could be inviting a wrongful dismissal claim.

Also, there could also be medical reasons, such as a pre-existing health condition or allergy to the vaccine’s ingredients, due to which some employees may not get the shot. If you terminate such an employee, it could amount to discrimination under human rights legislation.

Pressuring your staff to get vaccinated could backfire if an employee later experiences any side effects due to the vaccine. They may then consider legal action against you for pushing them to get the vaccine.

How do I manage health and safety in my workplace with unvaccinated staff?

The best you can do is educate your workforce on the safety and benefits of the vaccine and recommend that they get inoculated.

Barring unvaccinated staff from the office till the pandemic is over is also fraught with legal risks. A possible solution could be an HR policy that allows unvaccinated employees to continue working from home.

If the nature of your business does not allow for remote work, make sure the unvaccinated staff coming into work follow the existing health and safety guidelines.  

Need help with staff management during the pandemic?

For HR and health and safety advice, call an expert today at 1(833) 247-3652.

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