As workplaces reopen, a major challenge employers face is managing a staff of mixed vaccination status.
Some employees may have concerns about daily contact with their unvaccinated coworkers. Others may worry they’ll be judged or stigmatized for their choice or inability to receive the vaccine.
It is important that you understand your obligations in this matter as an employer. You should be prepared to handle such scenarios fairly.
Do my vaccinated employees have the right to demand to work away from unvaccinated staff?
Certain employees may feel uncomfortable working close to their unvaccinated coworkers. They are within their rights to bring this issue to your attention and request to move workstations.
But there is no law stating that this accommodation must be fulfilled. As an employer, it is your choice how to proceed. If – after weighing the needs of the business and any possible effects of granting this accommodation – you choose to deny the request, you have the right to do so.
But before you do, you may want to determine if the accommodation is being asked for a reason related to the employee’s human rights, such as illness or pregnancy. If so, you should consider accommodating the employee to avoid the possibility of a human rights complaint.
Can my remote workers refuse to come back to work if their coworkers are unvaccinated?
Vaccination status is private health information. Employees should not know the vaccination status of their coworkers.
But it may happen that an unvaccinated employee tells their coworkers that they have chosen to forgo the vaccine. When employees are called back into the office, this could pose an issue.
Employees cannot demand to continue working from home. If an employee refuses to return to office due to close contact with unvaccinated coworkers, employers can discipline or terminate the employee.
But if the employee has a protected reason for requesting continued remote work, you should consider allowing it.
If employees are worried about seeing their unvaccinated coworkers, assure them that all public health guidelines are being followed in the workplace to keep them safe.
Are my employees required to tell me their vaccination status if I ask?
Since vaccination status is private health information, your staff is not legally obligated to disclose it.
Some workers may be hesitant to disclose their status if they are very private people. Or, if they have a medical or religious reason that prevents them from getting vaccinated.
On having to disclose a negative vaccination status, the employee may also feel pressured to explain why. Thus, forcing them to disclose a private health condition to avoid stigma.
Employers must respect the privacy of their employees while ensuring a safe workplace for all. This can create a difficult balancing act for employers caught in the middle of these two opposing legal obligations.
One of the best ways to avoid any vaccine-related issues in the workplace is education. The more you educate your staff on the benefits of the vaccine, the more likely they are to receive it.
Do you need help creating health and safety policies for the pandemic?
Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety, or employment advice you need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.