COVID-19: Can you force an employee to take the vaccine?

HRD spoke to Stephen Wolpert, partner at Whitten & Lublin and speaker at our upcoming Employment Law Masterclass

COVID-19: Can you force an employee to take the vaccine?

As the world anxiously awaits news of a much-needed COVID-19 vaccine, employers are tentatively examining how this could impact their workplaces.

Vaccinations have long been divisive – with certain Anti-Vac groups claiming the remedy does more harm than the disease it’s trying to fight.

While everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, when these views start conflicting with Government advice and workplace safety laws, it becomes a serious concern.

HRD spoke to Stephen Wolpert, partner at Whitten & Lublin and speaker at HRD’s upcoming Employment Law Masterclass Toronto.

Wolpert revealed whether or not an employer can insist an employee take the COVID-19 vaccine.

“My answer to that is almost certainly no,” he explained.        

“Employers cannot force employees to take any kind of medication or vaccination, so the COVID-19 vaccine could follow the same rule.

“Whatever vaccine it is, you can't know that it's safe for every individual person. There are lots of vaccines out there which aren’t safe for certain people because of pre-existing medical issues.  

“As such, employers can't force somebody to take a vaccine. However, employers can address the issue in another way-perhaps by stating that an employee cannot return to the office unless they’ve had the vaccine .”

So, if an employee refuses outright to take the vaccine, can an employer than fire that employee for breaching safety regulations?

Well, according to Wolpert, it’s unlikely.

“Probably not in Ontario,” he told HRD, “but that's because we have human rights legislation which can end up conflicting with the occupational and safety issues any vaccination policy would likely be seeking to address.

“If the employee refuses to take the vaccine, and they cite a legitimate medical reason, then you certainly couldn't fire them.

“If they refuse, and they provide no reason, that’s a different story altogether.”

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