Given that COVID-19 vaccines are expected to hit the masses in July, questions are being raised as to whether employers in BC will go a step further and require workers to be vaccinated.
Kelowna-based attorney David Mardiros of Kent Employment Law said the problem was not new – it had appeared at least twice in arbitration proceedings in British Columbia.
In 2006, referees upheld a hospital’s policy, forcing a union nurse to either immunize against influenza during an outbreak or take unpaid leave from work.
So far, BC “most of the cases have been in the health sector,” Mardiros said.
Another case was set up with the employee’s consent to wear a mask to work during an influenza outbreak in 2013.
“It was an option the employee thought was appropriate.”
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The COVID-19 pandemic is a new and unknown area for employers and workers across the province, with every job being affected by its spread.
While enforcement of labor policy is legal, whether a far-reaching vaccination mandate would exist in court is another question, Mardiros said.
Ultimately, an employer must claim – using expert knowledge – that vaccination of its staff against COVID-19 is necessary.
In particular if “shelter can be created where the worker can work from home or use personal protective equipment to prevent the transmission of the disease.”
In busy restaurants where employees frequently interact with the public, such a case might prove more sensible, the lawyer said.
“However, if their case cannot be proven, an employee fired for not vaccinating could file for an illegal dismissal.”
READ MORE: BC uses second doses of COVID-19 vaccine as supply is slow
Some Halthcare and nursing home workers in BC were the first to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in December.
Currently, the province has not prescribed the COVID-19 vaccine for nurses, doctors, and other frontline workers in hospitals. Instead, workers are “encouraged” to receive them, according to a statement from the province on Jan. 9.
On Friday, British Columbia’s health officials launched a four-phase plan that begins with seniors over 80 receiving vaccinations in February.
Members of the public who are only 18 years old should be able to receive their dose by September.
“We all have to make a decision: whether to vaccinate or not,” said Mardiros.
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