Last week, the federal government announced that it will be making vaccinations mandatory for federal employees and also for those working in some federally regulated industries related to travel. You can read the news release here.
The government intends to require vaccinations for federal employees by the end of September. It projects that vaccinations will be required in the federally regulated transportation sector (airlines, rail, cruise ships) by the end of October. The requirement will also apply to travellers.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada — which is the union representing the majority of impacted workers — is apparently on board with this move.
What About Those Who Aren’t Vaccinated?
The government says that alternative measures will be put in place for those who are unable to be vaccinated. These measures could include testing and screening.
Being “unable” to be vaccinated is different than refusing to be vaccinated. This could mean that employees who refuse to get vaccinated without legitimate reason may lose their jobs. A legitimate reason for refusing vaccination would be one related to a health condition or a sincerely held religious belief. Employees with health conditions that don’t allow them to be vaccinated would be entitled to accommodations, for example.
Are More Mandatory Vaccination Policies Coming?
Recent weeks have seen more companies moving towards mandatory vaccination. Twitter, for example, has said that Canadian employees who choose to return to the workplace must be fully vaccinated. However, this is different from requiring that employees must be vaccinated to work for Twitter.
In office type workplaces, where the pandemic has proved that employees can successfully work from home, employers will likely have difficulty justifying a requirement that all employees be vaccinated AND come into the office. Employees may need to be vaccinated to come into the office, but those who are not can likely reasonably work from home.
In workplaces where employees cannot work from home, where there is contact with the public, where physical distancing and other alternative safety measures aren’t possible, mandatory vaccination for workers is likely reasonable.
This move by the federal government signals that vaccination requirements are likely coming, and will likely be considered reasonable, in many different contexts. Employers thinking about returning to the office should consider how they will meet their health and safety obligations to keep workers safe. Check out our new OMG The Office is Open!!! toolkit for DIY templates, guides and legal docs to support your back-to-work planning or get in touch for a consultation.