Covid Vaccines & Workplaces

Shawnee Love   •   May 21, 2021

I am going to wade into a topic that appears to be particularly thorny right now. Covid Vaccinations and Workplaces.

Before I start, let me preface this by saying I am not an anti-masker or anti-vaxxer. I have a vaccine passport as I have travelled extensively to countries which required me to prove I had any number of vaccines and tests confirming I was fit to enter their country.

What I am is Pro….

Pro-Choice (in the way we usually know it but also in the form of letting people choose their own health practices), Pro-Inclusivity, Pro-Science, and Pro-Privacy of individuals.

Thus, when I get the questions:

  • “Can we require our employees to be vaccinated to come to work?”, or
  • “Can we ask employees whether they have been vaccinated?”

I believe the right answer to both questions is “NO”.

To those who argue vaccines are the right thing to do, that may be so, but with some exceptions, most employers are not permitted to require employees to get any other tests or prove they have taken medical tests. Drug tests are a classic example.

To those who argue employers must take a leadership role or moral stand, that may be the right choice for some leaders. However, few leaders require employees to get enough sleep, eat their kale, take vitamins, or stop smoking, etc., so let’s be clear where your leadership or morality stands. There are many vaccines available for other contagious and dangerous diseases (whooping cough, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis, etc.) and yet few workplaces require those vaccinations nor would coworkers be privy to who has which vaccinations or not. Thus, I think with the notable exception of positions and industries with high-risk factors, most employers should avoid the Covid vaccine space as well. The exception is if being vaccinated is a legitimate workplace prerequisite (as it has been to have the Hep B vaccine in some workplaces).

As for requiring employees to disclose their vaccine status, that is very thin ice in my opinion, although clearly if employees want to take advantage of the paid vaccine leave here in BC, employees need to indicate they need the time off to be vaccinated.  Still, we can’t ask employees to disclose illnesses and conditions unless lack of knowing could negatively impact an employee’s safety, ability to work, or the safety of others. If you can’t ask someone whether they have anxiety, anorexia or are taking a drug to help them stave off a manic episode, I believe asking people if they have a vaccine is an equivalent invasion of privacy.

Some employees indicate being fearful about working in a site where not everyone has their vaccine; however, working where people don’t have vaccines is what has been occuring since COVID began. We know that following guidance and protocols from the various health and safety organizations, people can work safely. Some of those protocols, like daily health checks, should be kept in place permanently if you ask me, but I never liked people coming to work coughing and sneezing their germs all over anyway.

If you truly want to encourage and foster vaccinations, get your own vaccine. And when it becomes readily available, pay to bring an inoculation team to your worksite just as you would an annual flu vaccine. Or do as another of my clients has and offer a paid day off with the communication they hope employees use it to protect their health including getting vaccinated. However, please don’t ask for a report on how your people used the time off. People are tired and can use a wellness day no matter how they specifically put it to use.

For those who argue Covid is contagious, that is true. And deadly. And serious. Fortunately, they can get the vaccine and protect themselves as so many Canadians have.  May 20, 2021, 48% of the population in Canada had at least one dose of a vaccine!

This is at least how I see it. Please comment and share your perspective.