With COVID-19 vaccines expected to reach the masses in July, questions are being raised as to whether employers in B.C. will take a step further and require worker immunization.
Kelowna-based lawyer David Mardiros, with Kent Employment Law, said the issue isn’t a new one – it’s come up in B.C. arbitrations at least twice.
In 2006, arbitrators upheld a hospital’s policy, forcing a union nurse to either immunize from influenza during an outbreak or take an unpaid leave of absence at work.
So far, in B.C. “most cases have been within the healthcare sector,” Mardiros said.
Another was settled with the employee consenting to wearing a mask to work during an influenza outbreak in 2013.
“It was an option the employee found reasonable.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is new and uncharted territory for employers and employees across the province, with every workplace impacted by its spread.
Though enforcing work policies is legal, whether a wide-reaching vaccination mandate would hold up in court is another matter, Mardiros said.
Ultimately, an employer must make the case – using expert science – that requiring their staff to be vaccinated from COVID-19 is necessary.
Especially when “an accommodation can be made where worker can work from home or use personal protective equipment to prevent transmission of the disease.”
In bustling restaurants, where employees are frequently interacting with the public, such a case might prove more reasonable, said the lawyer.
“However, if their case can’t be proven, an employee fired for not vaccinating could sue for wrongful dismissal.”
Some halthcare workers and those in longterm care homes in B.C. were the first to be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in December.
Currently, the province has not made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for nurses, doctors, and other frontline staff in hospitals. Employees are instead “encouraged” to get it, according to a Jan. 9 statement from the province.
On Friday, B.C. health authorities rolled out a four-phased plan that begins with seniors older than 80 receiving immunizations this February.
By September, members of the general public, as young as 18, are expected to be able to receive their dose.
“We’re all going to have to make the decision: to vaccinate or not,” Mardiros said.
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