COVID-19 Vaccinations and Workplace Rights

Covid-19 vaccinations and Workplace Rights
Labour Relations

Overview

More than one year ago the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of the world. Such shutdowns gravely impacted many businesses, and otherwise shifted the landscape of working life for businesses that could legally remain open by providing working from home arrangements (when possible) or by requiring significant protective measures (for essential services). Although there is much speculation regarding how the pandemic might permanently shift working life for some sectors over the coming years (including more work from home positions), the reality is, many jobs can only be performed in person and some employers may prefer their staff attend the workplace for various reasons (such as increased productivity, improved morale, building relationships, and other reasons).

As the Canadian government attempts to ramp up its vaccination efforts, limited vaccine supplies, combined with vaccination hesitancy, have slowed the process. At the same time, Canadian public health officers have recently declared that we are in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and most recently we are seeing an increase of younger patients hospitalized, gravely ill or even dying as a result of contracting COVID-19. Unfortunately, many of these patients include essential workers (like teachers and factory workers) who may have contracted COVID-19 from workplace exposure.

In this context, Canadian employers must consider what measures can legally be taken to protect their workplace. Employers may be considering various measures such as: social distancing, personal protective equipment (“PPE”) and vaccination requirements. At the same time, some employees may have strong opinions or views on why they do not wish to get vaccinated. Other workers may have religious reasons or health related issues that preclude them from getting vaccinated. With all of these considerations, many employers and employees alike want to know their legal rights relating to the imposition of workplace vaccination rules. Balancing COVID-19 protections with workers’ rights is a difficult and unprecedented circumstance that many employers will face in the coming months. This article will discuss legal issues and considerations relating to implementing requirements or policies around COVID-19 vaccinations in Canadian workplaces and other related solutions to consider when trying to protect the workplace from a COVID-19 outbreak.

Please see the updated version of this article, published on Feb 10, 2022: COVID-19 Vaccinations and Workplace Rights: 2022 Case Law Update 

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