Can B.C. employers force employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
VANCOUVER -- With many British Columbians still working remotely, employers are likely counting on the COVID-19 vaccine to get people safely back to the office.
“I expect that is top-of-mind based on the conversations I’ve had with many employers to date,” said employment lawyer Amy Frankel, of Forte Law. “What employers would like employees to do is quite a bit different, though, than what they can require employees to do.”
Frankel says given current principles and the state of Canadian law, “it’s safe to say employers probably at this point cannot mandate vaccinations as a condition of their employment.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry seemed to agree with that assessment Wednesday.
“We have no mandatory immunization programs in this country and in this province, and we do not expect COVID immunization will be mandatory either,” she said during a news conference.
That’s true even at high-risk workplaces like hospitals and long-term care facilities, Henry said.
“We will be strongly encouraging everybody in those settings to be immunized, and if people are thinking of going into those settings and don’t believe in immunization, then they should look for other things to do,” she said.
While employers likely can’t force workers to get immunized, airlines can keep passengers who refuse to be vaccinated from flying.
“They’re fully able to do that as a private business, and it’s not unheard of,” said Allison Wallace, director of media and communications for Flight Centre Canada.
Some countries already require travellers to have certain vaccines as a condition of entry. And the CEO of Qantas says his airline will eventually make all passengers provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
Wallace expects other major carriers to suit.
“I think it’s very, very possible and people should probably be considering that in the future,” she said. “It’s going be awhile before they make it mandatory, but certainly somebody who is not willing to get a vaccine or even entertain the thought, their travel options may be limited in the future.”
Airline employees would be a grey area, one of many vaccine-related employment cases that Frankel predicts could end up being fought in court.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see how it all unravels in the courts and in the court of public opinion,” she said.