COVID-19 and the Workplace: A Guide for Workers

COVID-19 poses a risk to the health, safety, and well-being of workers.

The declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency in British Columbia means that the Provincial Health Officer (PHO), Dr. Bonnie Henry, can provide public health notices and orders that are legally enforceable.

Current public health guidance has guided many workplaces to mandate vaccines for their employees as an important step to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

The orders and directions of the PHO, which are set out in guidance to employers & businesses provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control, constitute a minimum standard.

In some limited circumstances employers can implement vaccination status policies, but only if other less intrusive means of preventing COVID-19 transmission are inadequate and if due consideration is given to the human rights of everyone involved[1].  Workers who cannot be vaccinated as a result of a medical condition or other grounds protected by the BC Human Rights Code may apply for an exemption from the requirement to be vaccinated. 

A worker can file a claim for compensation for workplace-acquired COVID-19 or an adverse reaction to a work-required COVID-19 vaccination that disables them from working.

A Public Health Order may require select employers in certain sectors to collect vaccination status from their workers, such as for those who work in long-term care and assisted living facilities. As of October 1, 2021, the Provincial Health Officer provided a Statement on COVID-19 Vaccination of Industrial Project Workers.

If an employer requires a worker to disclose their vaccination status or get a vaccine, and employees take issue with this, they may wish to speak with their union, or seek legal advice about making a Human Rights Complaint, or a wrongful dismissal claim if they are laid off or terminated.

To refuse unsafe work, workers must have a “reasonable basis” for identifying a vaccine as a safety concern.

A medical exemption may constitute a reasonable basis for a worker to identify a vaccine as a safety concern for them. Retaliatory action taken by an employer against an employee who has a valid medical exemption, even if the employee works in a sector in which there is a Public Health Order in place requiring vaccination, may be prohibited action.

If you work in an industry that requires its patrons to show proof of vaccination and your employer is not following Provincial Health Orders by requesting it, this may be an unsafe working condition and a health and safety matter. As a worker, you have an obligation to report  unsafe working conditions of which you become aware.

If you report unsafe conditions at the workplace to your employer or to WorkSafeBC, you are  exercising a right or carrying out a duty under the Workers Compensation Act.

It is illegal for an employer or union to penalize you for raising a health or safety issue at work. If you experience negative actions from your employer or union after raising a health and safety concern, you can submit a prohibited action complaint.

  • The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal deals with discrimination under the BC Human Rights Code, based on gender, family status, race, sexual orientation, religion, and physical disability
  • The Employment Standards Branch enforces statutory rights and obligations under the Employment Standards Act, such as the employer’s obligation to pay workers for completed work
  • The Labour Relations Board deals with unionized worker complaints against unions and employers under the Labour Relations Act
  • The civil court system can deal with certain claims of wrongful dismissal

 

 

[1] A human rights approach to proof of vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic (bchumanrights.ca)