04 Oct Can I be exempt from a Canadian workplace vaccine policy?
Question for an Ontario Employment Lawyer: Can I be legally exempt from the mandatory vaccine policy implemented at my workplace?
In recent weeks, workplaces across Ontario have been implementing proof of vaccination policies, and some are mandating the vaccine. For example, health workers are now required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and may be terminated if they refuse. This strict mandate and the proof of vaccination policy has left unvaccinated employees worried about potential termination or changes to their job duties if they remain unvaccinated.
According to the Ontario Human Rights Code, choosing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is a voluntary decision. This means that legally, individuals have the freedom to choose whether to become vaccinated or remain unvaccinated. However, the workplace is permitted, according to the Code, to implement proof of vaccination policies as long as these rules have been executed in good faith. This means that the workplace has the right to ask for this information, and it is not against the law or an individual’s rights to do so.
The Code accepts accommodations for situations involving disability or religion unless these accommodations create “undue hardship” pertaining to health and safety risks. “Undue hardship” is a legal term referring to the possibility that the accommodation could be too demanding.
The Code will not accommodate to those who refuse to receive the vaccine based on individual opinion. The only instance in which the Code will accommodate an opinion-related choice is if this refusal is based on religious belief. There are strict guidelines in place that outline what religions are opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine, and they will be the only religious groups where accommodations are permitted.
The Code addresses that their regulations may limit freedom from discrimination because accommodating people pertaining to COVID-19, is a serious health and safety risk and qualifies as undue hardship. Because accommodations involving COVID-19 may be characterized as an undue hardship, it is the employer’s responsibility to accommodate when it is reasonable and put in the effort to make employees comfortable. It is also in an organization’s best interest to be clear about their intentions with their proof of vaccination policies and ensure that people’s private information remains as private as possible.
The Code will also protect any employer or employee who is experiencing harassment due to their vaccination status.
It is important to keep in mind that the proof of vaccination policies and mask mandates are reasonable demands under the Code because of its severity pertaining to the health and safety risks that the pandemic causes.
If you have questions about how COVID-19 is impacting your employment, please contact, KCY at LAW by filling in an online consultation request or contact us by phone at 905-639-0999 to book your consultation today.