With COVID-19 vaccines on the way, employers might be asking the question: can I require my team get vaccinated before returning to the office?  Similarly, can I (as an employer) make vaccination a condition of employment, and what happens if I (as an employee) choose not get vaccinated?  Below are some answers to these questions.

Can an employer require an employee to get vaccinated in order to return to work?

The simple answer is no: an employee cannot be forced or compelled to get vaccinated. It is an employee’s choice if she/he wishes to receive the vaccine once it becomes available.

This right is protected by the Canadian Constitution; requiring an employee to be vaccinated could be grounds for discrimination on the basis of disability, or may go against the employee’s religious or political beliefs. Additionally, requiring an employee to be vaccinated goes against their right to control his/her own bodily integrity.  An employee has the right to turn down the vaccine for really any reason whatsoever, and in B.C., this right has been reaffirmed by Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry.

However, employers have a duty to ensure a safe work environment, therefore they may be faced with having to restrict non-vaccinated employees from performing their work from the company’s place of business.

Can an employer terminate an employee for refusing to get vaccinated?

It would be quite difficult for an employer to terminate an employee based on the employee’s choice not to get vaccinated. Termination for this reason would expose the employer to a human rights claim if the employee turned down the vaccine based on one or more of the above noted protected grounds (disability, or religious or political beliefs). Instead of termination of the employee, the employer has a duty to provide alternate options or accommodations for the employee where it is reasonable. However, if the duty to accommodate the employee becomes unreasonable and impacts the employer’s business or employee’s ability to perform his/her job, then termination may be possible.

It is possible for an employer to terminate an employee without cause if they choose not to be vaccinated and/or refuse to provide proof of receiving the vaccination. With that being said, this can be expensive for the employer as they would have to provide notice or payment in lieu of notice to the employee.

What other measures can employers take to ensure the safety of their employees upon returning to work?

Although employers may strongly encourage their employees to be vaccinated, it is not the only option. For the past several months, workplaces have been open for business while putting into practice the appropriate and required COVID-19 safety measures. If employees choose not to receive the vaccine, employers would be within their right to require such employees to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer and socially distance while in the employer’s place of business.  Different businesses may be faced with different requirements for ensuring a safe work environment. 

Should you have any questions, or for guidance on how to navigate these issues, please don’t hesitate to contact the Segev team at 604-629-5400 or via email at [email protected] to connect with one of our lawyers.

The above blog post is provided for informational purposes only and has not been tailored to your specific circumstances. This blog post does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice and may not be relied upon as such.