With the COVID-19 vaccine expected to arrive in Ottawa and Ontario in early 2021, some people are wondering whether employers can force their employees to get vaccinated.
The short answer, according to one Ottawa employment lawyer, is no.
"They can certainly ask. It's another thing to require an employee to receive a vaccine," says employment lawyer Alex Lucifero of Samfiru Tumarkin LLP.
"Whether we're talking about COIVD-19 or any other vaccine for that matter, an employer can't force an employee to get that vaccine. There's no way in law that that's possible."
Appearing on Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now, host Kristy Cameron asked Lucifero whether employers could asked staff to get the vaccine.
"Yes they can certainly ask; especially in an area we can imagine all the various workplaces and industries where getting a vaccine is probably going to be a really, really good idea - long-term care homes, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.," said Lucifero.
"I'm sure employers there will be encouraging their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Again, can they force those employees to get the vaccine? The answer, again if it is COVID or any vaccine, the answer is absolutely not! They can't force them."
Health Minister Christine Elliott has said the COVID-19 vaccine will be voluntary.
Ottawa's medical officer of health tells Newstalk 580 CFRA she doesn't believe the vaccine should be mandatory.
"I don't think mandatory approaches are the first place to go," said Dr. Vera Etches on Thursday.
"I think people need all the information they can get about the vaccine. They will get it, this will be very transparent."
Lucifero makes it clear the vaccine will be great and encourages everyone to get it, but there may be reasons for people not to get the vaccine and those must be respected.
"There will be individuals who maybe the vaccine isn't a particularly great idea; maybe there are medical reasons why somebody shouldn't be receiving a vaccine; maybe there are religious reasons why someone shouldn't or wouldn't want to take this vaccine, and again we cannot impose on an individual by forcing them, especially in those kind of circumstances."
Cameron asked Lucifero if there are special circumstances that may require long-term care employees and hospital workers to receive the vaccine as part of employment.
"An employer may very well encourage, they may very well ask; but can they necessarily force or demand an employee take the vaccine? Again, no. Even in a case like that, no not necessarily. There are potential solutions and work around options here where perhaps if there is an employee who is unwilling to take the vaccine and is potentially putting other employees in the workplace at risk because of that that requires addressing too," said Lucifero.
"It's important to keep in mind that employers have an obligation to keep their workplaces healthy and safe as well. So if someone who decides not to get vaccinated is putting other employees at risk, potentially, that requires some sort of accommodation where perhaps that employee can work from home or work in an isolated fashion where they don't risk anybody else becoming exposed to COVID-19."
Lucifero said solutions would need to be found in some situations.
"Is the answer making the vaccine mandatory for every single employee or else, no that can't possible be the answer. It's going to have to be a compromise on both sides."