Can my employer say I have to get a vaccine in order to work?

People are coming back to our office and it’s become a very hot topic of conversation.

Philip

Philip

Dawson Creek, BC

According to BC’s human rights commissioner, employers could, in certain circumstances, implement a vaccination status policy. This would be any policy that lets the employer treat a worker differently depending on whether they are vaccinated or not. 

Every workplace is different. There’s no easy answer that says, for example, “if you work in retail, then yes, your employer can implement a vaccine status policy.” That being said, the safety of workers and customers is always a top priority, and public health indicates that vaccines are effective at keeping COVID at bay. 

If a policy is going to be put in place, the commissioner advises that it be for necessary reasons. These reasons would typically follow the health and safety guidelines we’ve been seeing throughout the pandemic, like:

  • Do our employees interact with the public?

  • Does our workplace allow for proper social distancing?

  • Is our workforce generally good at following COVID-related protocols, like washing hands, staying home when they have symptoms, and isolating if they’ve been in contact with someone who has had COVID?

Employers also need to strike a balance. Not all workers are in the same situation. Some, for example, might experience barriers to vaccination if they live in a remote community, have a disability, or are undocumented migrant workers.

If a vaccination status policy is put in place, employers can create exemptions. In doing so, BC’s human rights commissioner says the employer can create a requirement for some or all staff to wear a face mask, work at a physical distance from others, work a modified shift, get periodic tests for COVID-19, work remotely, or accept a reassignment to a setting that poses less risk of transmission.

What every workplace can do, though, is create open communication channels for how vaccination status requirements can be handled. Through effective consultation and communication, a workplace can get aligned on the appropriate vaccination policy. This doesn’t mean every worker will be happy with the chosen policy, but at the very least they’ll be properly informed. 

David Kandestin

David Kandestin

People's Law School
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in December 2021

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