Mandatory Vaccines for Regulated Health Care Practitioners

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].

Sick and fired? The duty to accommodate explained.

At Forte Law, one of the most common work problems that brings clients to see us is disability in the workplace.  We meet with employer clients who are struggling with how to manage employee medical issues that are impacting the workplace.  We  also meet with employee clients who have been fired from their jobs after getting sick.  Sometimes an employee has been fired during, or following a medical leave or when they request changes to their duties or schedule to accommodate medical limitations. Every week, we work with several clients who are facing this stressful situation.

The good news is that the law is clear.  Employers in British Columbia have a duty to accommodate employees’ physical or mental disabilities.  This means that if an employee has a disabling condition, the employer must consider what can be done to maintain the employment relationship before firing them.  In most employment relationships, the duty to accommodate could include allowing employees to take leaves from work for treatment and recovery, or considering modifications to duties or work schedules.

There are limits to what lengths employers must go to in accommodation.  If an employer can demonstrate that the changes required would be undue hardship for its business, for reasons that can include financial costs, or other business impacts then it has reached the end of the duty to accommodate.  Employers are not required to hold positions open forever when an employee is on leave, but decisions to terminate must be based on a careful assessment.

The duty to accommodate is a two way street.  Employees are also required to participate in the accommodation process.  Employees must provide medical information, maintain contact while away from the workplace, and be open and flexible about ideas on how their medical limitations could be accommodated at work.

The bottom line is, if you have been fired or “laid off” in any part because of a medical leave or limitations on your ability to work, you should seek advice from an employment lawyer.  This is a stressful time, and we can help you find a path forward.  We will make sure you understand your rights, and in most cases we are able to help our clients negotiate a settlement that lets them move on with their lives.

Similarly, if you are an employer, and thinking about letting someone go while they are on a medical leave, you should definitely seek guidance from an employment lawyer.  We can ensure that you understand your obligations and risks, so that you can move forward in a manner consistent with the Human Rights Code.

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].

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