Should employers provide workers time off to get COVID-19 vaccine?
HALIFAX -- For those of us still working from home, it might be easier to just pop out and get the shot, but what about for anyone working in a coffee shop or restaurant, in retail, or in a warehouse?
The question of whether employees get paid time to get vaccinated -- and whether employers can mandate vaccination -- doesn't have a simple answer.
With COVID-19 vaccinations picking up in the Maritimes, the time will come when it's the general public's turn.
Maritimers say employers should give workers on the job time to go get it.
"I don't see any argument why they shouldn't," said microbiologist Lucas Jarche. "The vaccine is going to protect us and the science backs it up."
Brandon Auger agrees, and goes one step farther.
"I would say so, if not, I think the company that I work for is large enough that they would probably do it in house," he said.
But according to labour law experts, whether taking time to get vaccinated will be paid time depends on what an employer is willing to do.
"They should provide time, they should provide paid time, however it's probably not a requirement unless it's in an employee's employment contract," said Jason Edwards, a labour lawyer with Pink Larkin.
Edwards specializes in workers' rights and says the Labour Standards Code doesn't provide for paid leave for things like vaccinations.
In Nova Scotia, the Code doesn't include any right to paid sick days, a gap Edwards says is highlighted by the pandemic.
"It might meet the three unpaid sick days in the Labour Standards Code, so you might have access to the shot that way, time off unpaid, that way," Edwards said.
Which raises the next question: can an employer require workers to be vaccinated?
So far, government hasn't said so.
"But every jurisdiction in Canada requires employers to take reasonable steps to ensure workplace safety," said Sheila Lanctôt, a labour and employment lawyer with Stewart McKelvey.
Lanctôt says that includes requiring medically eligible employees to get a COVID-19 shot.
The concept is still untested in the courts, but there are similar cases to fall back on, such as rulings mandating flu shots for healthcare workers and favouring employers who require COVID-19 testing.
"Because of the magnitude of COVID-19, arbitrators and courts will likely side with employers, who mandate vaccination even outside healthcare settings," Lanctôt said.
Edwards says if an employer is going to require employees to get vaccinated, it's probably in the employer's best interest as well as the employee's to provide that time to employees.
Just how employers are going to handle the push towards widespread vaccination -- and what that will look like for individual workers – has yet to play out.
The federal government is aiming to have enough vaccine in Canada by the end of September to vaccinate everyone. That means a lot has to happen between now and then in terms of scheduling appointments, getting them done, and figuring out what that means logistically for workplaces.