As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is well underway – with some delays – some businesses and employers might be wondering what they can do when it comes to encouraging employees to get the vaccine.
The Surrey Board of Trade held a digital town hall on vaccinations and businesses on Thursday (Jan. 28). It included two speakers: Tomas Reyes, the executive direction of the Surrey-North Delta Division of Family Practice, and Jordan Thompson, an associate with Fasken, a business law firm.
The town hall was to help employers and employees understand their rights when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, with questions such as “Can an employer require an employee to get vaccinated?” or “Can businesses prevent non-vaccinated guests from entering their premises?”
Anita Huberman, the CEO of the SBOT, said Surrey, from an industry perspective, “is faring very well,” but employers must understand the vaccine roll out and its implications to businesses.
Thompson said this is “uncharted territory” in the legal sector, and he expects it to change over the next several months as vaccines become available to the general public.
But as to whether an employer can require a vaccination, Thompson said, “At this point in time, it’s not really a practical plan.
He added employers cannot expect medical treatments from their employees, but Thompson said “there are, of course, exceptions to this general rule,” such as if the government ruled the COVID-19 vaccine was mandatory.
Thompson said he “could see the argument” for mandatory vaccines in long-term care, but he said it would really come down to a case-by-case basis and depend on the specific workplace in question.
When it comes to whether or not an employer can require proof of vaccination, Thompson said it’s “highly related to whether an employer can mandate vaccinations.”
As to whether a business can prevent non-vaccinated guests from entering their business, Thompson said that would involve a “ton of practical hurdles.” He added there are “very reasonable” alternatives, such as screening questions and temperature checks, which some businesses are already doing.
Refusing business on the grounds of not being vaccinated, would involve some “significant” human rights issues.
“It’s really a moving target and it’s really case-by-case specific for most employers.”
However, Thompson said businesses could look at incentive programs, such as working a half-day or taking the day off with pay, to encourage employees to get their vaccination.
Meantime, Reyes said vaccinations are “still an individual choice,” but “strongly recommended.”
Huberman asked what can be done on the education side if an employer is dealing with an employee who chooses not to take the vaccine.
Reyes said healthcare professionals need to listen and understand where the concern is coming from, which “many of those concerns may be founded on rumours people heard about, or stories formed based on those rumours.”
While it’s a personal choice whether or not to take the vaccine, Reyes said “the vaccine is not only to help you, but to help the people around the individual.”