Can an employee be fired for not getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

Legal issues can cause problems for employers but there are ways to encourage people to get the jab

Can an employee be fired for not getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

As more offices reopen following strict COVID-19 lockdowns, some employers are starting to require their employees to be fully vaccinated before returning to work.

However, is it within a company’s legal rights to dismiss an employee for not getting a vaccine?

Read more: Legality of vaccine mandates somewhat clarified

The mandatory vaccination policy

With vaccines against COVID-19 becoming more widely available, the federal government has recently mandated all public sector employees be vaccinated or risk being terminated. The mandate includes members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the core public administration, as well as employees in federally regulated sectors.

Following the lead of the federal government, several private companies have started to implement their own vaccination mandates that would protect their workers and clients from the spread of COVID-19.

Can an employer dismiss an employee who refuses to get vaccinated?

However, issues around the legality of these mandates can cause problems for private firms.

If, for example, a company terminates an employee for their refusal to be vaccinated, it could be ruled as termination without cause – which means that affected employees will be entitled to fair and full severance pay. And if monetary damages are not given to terminated employees, they could file a wrongful dismissal claim.

And while companies cannot force employees to get the vaccine, they can lay out several work-related repercussions if they refuse to get vaccinated or share their vaccination status. 

For example, employers can advise employees not to report to work or work remotely to protect other employees. Companies can also put employees on unpaid leave if they refuse to be vaccinated. 

Can employees refuse a COVID-19 vaccine?

An employee can refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if their religion, medical condition, or disability disallows it as it can breach the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Paul Boshyk, a partner in the employment labour relations practice at McMillan, told Canadian HR Reporter that employers are obligated to reasonably accommodate people who cannot be vaccinated, to the point of undue hardship

“The first step would be for the employee to provide evidence and information to the employer about the reason why they’re unable to comply with the employer’s mandatory vaccination rule so that the employer can assess that information and try and determine first about whether a reasonable accommodation without undue hardship is possible,” he said.

How employers can encourage employees to get vaccinated

A good strategy to reduce tensions around company vaccine mandates is to encourage employees to get vaccinated willingly – here are some ways employers can do that.

  1. Educate employees on vaccine information

A great way to encourage employees to get vaccinated is to educate them on the benefits of the vaccine. Employers could provide different teaching tools, such as seminars and courses on COVID-19 and the vaccine, as an opportunity for employees to gain insight on the vaccine and address their issues, such as resistance to or misinformation about the vaccine. Inviting credible experts, doctors, and health officials to educate employees can assure them the information is valid.

When employees have accurate information, it could persuade them to get the vaccine voluntarily. Additionally, employees equipped with information can share facts with their colleagues and friends – encouraging them as well to get vaccinated and stay protected against COVID-19.

Many organizations and third-party services provide courses for workforces. A credible course is offered by Health Canada which contains accurate vaccine information endorsed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

  1. Offer consistent reminders and updates

Consistent reminders on vaccine updates and safety precautions in the workplace can keep employees informed and encourage them to get vaccinated if they are not open to it. Reminders and updates could be spread through email, meetings, newsletters, posters, and other forms of communication medium used in-office and virtually.

  1. Provide perks and benefits for vaccinated employees

One way to encourage employees to get vaccinated is by offering additional perks and benefits that support the vaccination against COVID-19. This can be in the form of financial incentive, paid leave for days when they get the vaccine and recover, and assist with scheduling for the vaccine. The incentives will entice employees to get vaccinated and increase their satisfaction with the company.

New Brunswick employer JD Irving is providing employees with extra cash for being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

  1. Offer different safety precautions in the workplace

Making sure employees follow various safety precautions such as wearing proper face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), maintaining social distancing, and conducting rapid tests and screening programs can help keep the spread of COVID-19 at a minimum.

Conducting safety precautions for in-office employees and even supplying remote workers with tools and items needed to stay safe shows employees the dedication of the company to keep its workforce safe. This supports the mindset of always staying safe and makes employees see the vaccine as a huge step to prevent COVID-19 infections.

Read more: How to prevent vaccination conflicts at work

It is the company’s responsibility to ensure every employee remains safe and healthy from any sickness, but employees also have a big part in keeping the workplace safe for themselves and their colleagues. Companies should support employees no matter how the difference in opinions and beliefs.

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