COVID-19 Vaccination Mandates in the Workplace & Adverse Reactions
It has been well known for the better part of a year that the absolute best way to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus is through vaccination. And of course, it is understood that an employer has a moral – and legal – obligation to safeguard the health and safety of their workers. So, it makes sense that many employers are considering implementing vaccination mandates to ensure their workforce is protected against COVID-19.
Statements from workers’ compensation boards and other provincial authorities seem to tread lightly around the subject – and for good reason. The implementation of a vaccination mandate calls into question matters of labour legislation, human rights, and medical privacy. We are navigating previously uncharted territory, and it has become a hot topic among labour unions, lawyers, and employers alike. However, our government has set a powerful precedent: all federal public service employees, including those in the air, rail, and marine transport sectors, were required to be vaccinated by the end of October 2021.
One thing that seems to be unanimously agreed upon, is that if an employer does make being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 a condition of employment, should the worker have any adverse reaction to the vaccine, medical costs and lost wages may be considered work-related by the respective workers’ compensation board. That means that if you decide to implement a policy that makes COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in order for your employees to continue working, and they have an adverse reaction to the vaccine, it would be considered a reportable work-related claim.
It is important to differentiate between making vaccination mandatory and simply encouraging your workers to get vaccinated. Organizing a vaccination clinic at a worksite, providing a financial incentive for proof of vaccination, and generally encouraging workers to get vaccinated do not count as requiring a vaccine for the purpose of employment. Only if a worker’s employment is contingent on providing proof of vaccination would it be considered mandatory. It is, however, important to be completely clear whether or not vaccination is mandatory for an employee to continue working; in BC, for example, if it is proven that a worker was reasonably convinced that the vaccination was necessary – even if that is not the case – an adverse reaction may still be considered work-related.
Another notable piece to this puzzle is the definition of an “adverse reaction.” For entitlement to be considered by the workers’ compensation board, the reaction would have to be beyond what can be expected as common side effects (e.g., fever, chills, pain at the injection site, fatigue and headaches for at most a few days). Anything requiring medical attention, or time away from work beyond a couple of days, would be considered an adverse reaction.
The following resources contain statements from workers’ compensation boards across the country, addressing vaccines and the workplace:
WCB Nova Scotia: