Most of us are either employees or employers. If you own a company, you might be tempted to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on your employees so you can make your workplace safer for everyone. On the other hand, employees might be wondering if they have the right to refuse the vaccine. They might also wonder if their employer has the right to fire you following your decision.
So, what are your employment and employer rights regarding the COVID-19 vaccine? Since it depends on your situation and your industry, there is no simple answer to this question. Let’s learn more about employment and employer rights regarding the vaccine:
Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace to their employees
In Ontario, employers are required by the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act to provide a safe workplace. This duty includes protecting their employees from the risks associated with infectious diseases. It makes sense for employers to set up safety protocols to protect their employees from Covid-19.
An employer could decide to establish a vaccination policy to convince their employees to get the vaccine. But can they terminate an employee who refuses the vaccine? Technically, they can. However, an employment lawyer could determine that the employee was terminated without cause.
Employers are required to determine whether vaccination is necessary
Each employer is responsible for determining whether mandatory vaccination would be necessary for their business, depending on their situation and their industry. They should also consider alternatives for employees who refuse the vaccine or can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons.
For example, they could ask all employees who decide not to get vaccinated to get rapid and regular COVID-19 tests instead. If an employer fires an employee who refused the vaccine, they must try to accommodate them with an alternative solution. Otherwise, the termination could be considered unjustified.
Vaccination can be mandatory in your industry if the government imposes a mandate
The provincial or federal government might impose a vaccination mandate for your workplace or your industry. In this case, any vaccination mandate you impose as an employer is considered legal.
If there is no government mandate to back your company mandate, you can still fire an employee who refuses to get vaccinated. However, this termination could be considered termination without cause, and you could face a wrongful dismissal claim if you fire your employee without adequate severance pay.
Terminating an employee who refused the vaccine could be considered discrimination
Employees have the right to refuse to get the vaccine due to medical conditions or for religious reasons. If an employee gets terminated because they refused the vaccine for a medical or religious reason, they could speak with an employment lawyer.
They might file wrongful dismissal claims or human rights claims against their employer. However, keep in mind that refusing a vaccine due to political beliefs is not considered a valid base to file a discrimination claim. You must have sufficient legal proof that your termination is related to your discrimination charges.
Employers can’t penalize their employees for refusing the vaccine
If you refuse to get vaccinated, your employer doesn’t have the right to penalize you. They are not allowed to reduce your pay or change your employment duties or position without your approval. They also can’t put you on an unpaid leave of absence simply because you refused the vaccine.
Employees can be forced to take regular tests if they refuse the vaccine
If you refuse to get the vaccine, your employer can legally force you to take rapid and regular COVID-19 tests as an alternative. However, if you refuse to get tested, you could be terminated and have the right to receive severance pay. If you work in a sector where the government has required COVID-19 tests, you cannot refuse these tests. Otherwise, you will not be owed any severance if you are terminated due to your refusal.
Unionized employees have to refer to their union in case of a dispute with their employer
What if you are part of a union and disagree with your employer’s vaccine mandate? Unionized employees must refer to their union if they have a dispute with their employer and need advice or representation. If you refuse to get the vaccine and your employer wants to fire you without severance pay, you will have to turn to your union for help. An employment lawyer will not be able to represent you if you are unionized legally.
You should now have a better idea of your rights regarding the Covid-19 vaccine. If you would like more information about what you are allowed and not allowed to do, you should speak with an employment lawyer for legal advice.