With COVID-19 vaccine roll-outs ramping up, employees may be wondering how to deal with vaccines in the workplace.
In a companion article, our firm provides information for employers about COVID-19 vaccines in the workplace. In this article, we address questions employees may have.
Can my employer require that I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes, but it is not as simple as your boss telling you to get the vaccine or else you will be fired.
Employers have an obligation under occupational health and safety laws to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees. For some worksites, meeting this obligation might include having a vaccination policy in place, for some or all workers.
On the other hand, employers must also respect employee rights under human rights laws (including discrimination and accommodation) and privacy laws (including disclosing medical information). Employers must ensure the policy serves a legitimate health and safety purpose and is proportionate to that purpose. In this context, proportionate means that the vaccine must be the best, and perhaps only, option for addressing the employers’ workplace health and safety obligations. For example, requiring vaccination for all workers at a nursing home might be necessary to reduce the threat of COVID-19. On the other hand, widespread vaccination at a small office may not be necessary if other less restrictive measures are sufficient to guard against the risks of infection and spread.
Before implementing a vaccination policy, employers should give all workers advance notice of the policy and provide employees with an opportunity to ask questions. This notice period gives employers time to inform employees and ensure that employees understand the policy. This notice period can also serve as working notice if you do not agree with the new policy and choose to quit your job.
Read our other article for employers for tips on implementing a vaccination policy.
Can my employer ask for proof of vaccination?
Yes, but your employer only needs enough information to know you are vaccinated. For example, your employer cannot ask when or where you were vaccinated, or which vaccine you received. In almost all cases, your employer should not be keeping your vaccination or other medical records on file as this can amount to a fairly serious invasion of privacy.
However, right now, there are talks of vaccine passports or even a registry. We will have to wait to see if the government provides further direction on vaccine records and how employers may be able to access these records.
What if I cannot get the COVID-19 vaccine for good reason?
You may have a valid reason for not getting the vaccine, such as health concerns or religious beliefs. Workplace vaccination policies should always have exemptions to the vaccine requirement available to you. Your employer can ask for proof, though, that you fall under an exemption. For example, you may be required to provide a doctor’s note or some form of sworn statement (such as a statutory declaration).
Under human rights laws, employers have a duty to accommodate employees up to the point of undue hardship. The policy should say how the employer will accommodate employees who do not or cannot get vaccinated. For example, if you cannot get vaccinated due to a health risk posed by the vaccine, your employer may agree to continue to let you work from home until the public health threat passes.
If you have concerns about discrimination or accommodation, you can contact the Alberta Human Rights Commission (or the Canadian Human Rights Commission if your workplace falls under federal legislation).
Can I be fired for not getting vaccinated?
In most cases, probably not. If your employer has a vaccination policy and you do not follow it (i.e., you do not get vaccinated and are not exempt from the policy), the policy should say what the consequences are for doing so. Terminating an employee with cause is a high bar to meet and usually requires documented progressive discipline, such as multiple written warnings. That being said, there may be situations where an employee refusing to be vaccinated poses a safety risk to others and does call for termination. But that termination would very likely be without cause, and you would be entitled to reasonable notice or pay in lieu of notice.
Can a potential employer ask if I am vaccinated during an interview?
No, this would violate human rights laws. However, a potential employer may make being vaccinated a condition of an offer and indicate they have a workplace vaccination policy.
Can I ask my coworkers if they are vaccinated?
No. Vaccination records are personal health information, and your coworkers have no obligation to share this with you. Your employer is also prohibited from sharing medical records about one employee with other employees.
What can I do if my coworkers refuse to get vaccinated and my employer does not have a vaccination policy?
Your employer does not have to implement a vaccination policy. Further, the government is not making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for everyone. So, some people may choose not to get vaccinated.
If you have concerns, you can talk to your employer. You can also talk with Occupational Health and Safety if you are concerned your employer is not meeting its legal obligations to provide a healthy and safe workplace.
If your employer is not following public health measures, you can contact Alberta Health Services.
Is my employer responsible if I have a negative reaction to the vaccine?
If your employer requires you to be vaccinated, workers’ compensation benefits may cover allergic reactions to vaccines. If vaccinations in the workplace are voluntary, then you may not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. For example, WCB Alberta and WorkSafeBC have more information on when benefits are available in Alberta and B.C., respectively.
For more information on Alberta’s vaccine program, visit the Government of Alberta’s website.
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The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.
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