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Can your employer force you to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Last Updated Mar 16, 2021 at 5:12 pm PDT

Francesca Paceri, a registered pharmacist technician carefully fills the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine at a vaccine clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A lawyer says employers who want to bring in mandatory vaccine policies may face legal troubles

Some people are not able to get the COVID-19 vaccine for religious, health, or other reasons

B.C. lawyer says there could be some leeway in certain situations for employers to require workers to be vaccinated

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If you manage or own a business and want to ensure all of your workers get a COVID-19 vaccine, you’ll have to proceed with caution.

There are likely to be legal limitations on what you can demand of your employees.

Given no governments in our country have mandated vaccines and there’s no indication they will, lawyer Nathan Rayan with North Shore Law says most employers will have no legal basis for requiring their workers get a shot.

“I certainly expect many employers will want to make that a mandatory policy and you will start to see some employees who are either unable to get the vaccine due to a protected ground, or who are just unwilling to get it for personal reasons,” explained Rayan.

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Bringing in a mandatory vaccine policy could expose businesses to discrimination claims based on this, he says.

“A physical disability and religion — those are two protected grounds, and if an employer were refusing to hire somebody for having a disability that prevents them from being vaccinated, then they would be presumptively in breach of the human rights code,” he added.

That said, he believes there could be leeway for that option in some sectors, but adds in those situations, accommodations would still have to be made for certain groups.

He believes employers in some sectors may be more inclined to bring in policies, especially if workers operate closely with the public.

“In British Columbia, employers actually have a legal obligation to protect the health and safety of the job site. So that means they have to take all reasonable steps necessary to protect health and safety on the job site,” he said.

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“In addition to that, they would also have a legitimate commercial reason to want to protect the public more generally. And I think in a lot of cases, a mandatory vaccine would clearly be a reasonable step to accomplish those aims. Now, as is always the case, it’s going to be a case-by-case basis. So, for example, in the health-care sector, a policy from the employer requiring mandatory vaccines to me would clearly be a reasonable step,” Rayan explained, adding in other cases, you may have someone who works remotely and who the policy wouldn’t be reasonable for.

Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is in full swing across the country. Health officials and the prime minister have repeatedly said that every Canadian who wants a vaccine will likely get one by September.

That timeline may be moved up as more vaccines are approved for emergency use by Health Canada.

-With files from Tim James