Updated: March 21, 2022
The BC Government has revised its plan to mandate vaccines for all regulated health care professionals. On March 10, 2022, the BC Public Health Officer announced that they will be moving forward with an “informed consent” system for some health care workers which may require disclosure of vaccination status to patients or clients. The new Order was issued on March 7, 2022 and requires regulated colleges to record each registrant’s vaccination status by March 31, 2022. Vaccination will still be required for health care workers practicing in certain settings.
The landscape of employment law continues to change as BC brings in new measures to manage the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This time, the change affects employees and employers working in regulated health care professions.
On February 9, 2022, the BC Public Health Officer expanded its vaccine mandate to include health care workers like dentists, chiropractors and other practitioners who are governed by a regulatory college. According to the new announcement, workers who get a first dose of the vaccine by March 24, 2022, and a second dose between 28 and 35 days after, may continue to work.
The BC Provincial Health Officer is finalizing the order in consultation with the health professional colleges and further details will be provided about how the vaccine mandate will be rolled out. As we’ve seen with other government mandates, workers who fail to get vaccinated by the imposed deadline may be terminated or placed on unpaid leave.
We have worked with many dentists and other regulated health care professionals to navigate the twists and turns of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this will be another challenge for employers to tackle. That is because government vaccine mandates do not eliminate all risk associated with terminating a worker who refuses a vaccine. There are a number of aspects to mandatory vaccines that must be handled carefully, including medical exemptions and the privacy of workers’ personal information. We may see health professional colleges taking a lead role in collecting information about vaccination status and investigating instances of non-compliance, however this does not replace an employer’s legal obligations. Here are the top three things that those working in a regulated health care profession should know:
1. The employer has a duty to accommodate in some circumstances.
In rolling out vaccine mandates, even if they are government ordered, employers still need to consider their responsibilities to workers under the Human Rights Code. Employers have a duty to accommodate workers who can demonstrate that they are unable to be vaccinated for reasons protected by the Human Rights Code (for example, disability or religion) to the point of undue hardship. In deciding whether it is undue hardship to continue employment of an unvaccinated worker, employers must consider the personal circumstances of the worker, and take into account the safety of the workplace and the requirements of both the government and their regulatory body.
2. An employee’s vaccine status is sensitive health information.
As healthcare practitioners know, personal health information must be handled with care. This includes vaccine status. The Personal Information Protection Act allows private sector organizations to collect, use, and disclose an employee’s personal information for limited purposes, if appropriate safeguards are in place. This means that employers must have a designated process for protecting the privacy of information about vaccine status which also complies with the requirements of their respective regulatory colleges. These privacy obligations extend to prospective employees who are applying for a job and are asked to disclose their vaccination status.
3. Mandatory vaccine policies should be drafted carefully.
Employers in a government-mandated industry should have a written vaccine policy that complies with all BC public health orders and is applied consistently. This policy should address what will happen when a worker has a qualifying exemption and is unable to be vaccinated. There should also be a clear process for how to collect, use and protect each employee’s private information.
A full list of health care professions affected by the order can be found here.
This blog is not intended to serve as legal advice, and only provides general information. Every situation must be considered on its own facts. Need legal advice? Contact us by phone at 604 535-7063 or email [email protected].