Mandatory Vaccines in the Workplace: Guidance for First Nations

While the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact the world, vaccines have been recognized as the best and most effective tool to limit the impacts of the disease. Many employers across the country, including First Nations governments and organizations, are looking to mandatory vaccine requirements as a means to ensure workplace safety and asking questions about how far these policies can go.

As federally regulated employers, First Nations can and should take guidance from the recent move by the federal government to mandate vaccination for all federal public servants and for federally regulated transportation employees and travellers. The requirement for federal employees applies whether they are working on-site or remotely and failure to comply will result in consequences, including leave without pay. Crown corporations and associated sectors, the Armed Forces and other federally-regulated employers are being asked to adopt mirroring policies.

Many provincial governments have also begun mandating vaccines for their workforces. In BC, all public sector employees are required to provide proof of vaccination by November 22nd or face discipline up to and including termination. Again, this requirement applies whether employees are teleworking, working remotely or working on-site.

While employers are required to accommodate legitimate medical exemptions, both Canada and BC have made it clear that personal preference is not a valid reason for refusing to be vaccinated. Employment and Social Development Canada has communicated that employees who refuse to comply with an employer’s mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policy may not be eligible for employment insurance benefits.

Any employer contemplating a mandatory vaccine policy should ensure it is incorporated into a broad health and safety plan that takes into account public health guidance, best practices, and a reasonable risk assessment specific to each workplace. These policies should be clearly communicated to all employees, provide for a reasonable period of time for compliance, and consequences for failure to comply, including suspension without pay or dismissal, should be plainly set out. Employers must allow for certain exemptions, such as medical or religious exemptions, and can establish criteria for approving such exemptions. Accommodations should avoid singling out any one person to the extent possible.

Given the rapidly developing situation around covid-19 and the need for adaptation and responsiveness to changing circumstances, we recommend staying up to date on all legal and health guidelines to ensure best practices are followed to keep everyone safe.

For assistance and advice on your workplace safety policies, including mandatory vaccination policies, please contact our office.