Canadian Government Requires COVID-19 Vaccines for Public Servants, Travelers

By Catherine Skrzypinski December 7, 2021
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someone administering a COVID-19 vaccine

​The Canadian government has asserted that vaccination is an essential component in moving past the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government of Canada has required COVID-19 vaccinations for approximately 268,000 federal public servants, including members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, explained Michael Comartin, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Toronto. Those government workers—including employees working remotely and contractors—had until Oct. 29 to disclose their vaccination status.

Not all federal workplaces need to comply, Comartin added. Banks and telecommunications companies are not subject to the federal vaccination directive.

"As the country's largest employer, the government of Canada is leading by example," said Chrystia Freeland, Canada's deputy prime minister. "By requiring people who work in the public service to be fully vaccinated, we are putting the health and safety of public servants, their families and their neighbors first." 

More than 95 percent of Canada's public servants are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 98 percent have received at least one vaccine dose as of November 2021, according to the federal government.

Public servants who refuse to disclose their vaccination status or who are not fully vaccinated were to be placed on administrative leave without pay as early as Nov. 15, said Monty Verlint, an attorney with Littler in Toronto.

Unvaccinated government workers will also not be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits if they lose their job for noncompliance with employer COVID-19 vaccine policies, added Kyle Lambert, an attorney with McMillan in Ottawa.

Travel Planning for the Vaccinated

Business travelers in Canada say they are ready to hit the road again, but Canadian employers have taken a conservative approach to travel during the pandemic. Now that the U.S.-Canadian border has opened both ways to nonessential travel for the first time in 19 months, business travelers and transport sector employees are required to be fully vaccinated.

Transport Canada—a department within the Canadian government responsible for transportation policies and programs—has established vaccination policies for employees in Canada's federally regulated air, rail and marine transportation sectors, Lambert explained.

As of Oct. 30, travelers departing from Canadian airports on domestic or international flights, traveling on trains, or traveling on nonessential passenger vessels like cruise ships must be fully vaccinated. Travelers must provide proof of vaccination prior to boarding a plane, train or boat, said Rhonda Levy, a lawyer with Littler in Toronto.

"Requiring travelers and employees to be vaccinated ensures that everyone who travels and works in the transportation industry will better protect each other," said Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra.

Travelers coming to Canada must download the ArriveCAN app and enter proof of vaccination—accepted vaccines include Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson—along with their travel plans 72 hours before they enter the country, Lambert said.

Currently, anyone entering Canada must show proof of a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 taken no more than 72 hours before their arrival at the border. Canadian border agents will not accept rapid antigen tests.

"In addition to the regular travel documents like identification, passports and boarding passes, a business traveler will need the Canadian COVID-19 proof of vaccination," Comartin explained. "This allows travelers to have standardized proof of vaccination for their domestic and international travels."

Workplace Vaccination Policy Guidance

The federal government has left vaccination mandates for private-sector employers up to individual Canadian provinces and territories, Lambert noted.

Canada's small and midsize enterprises account for more than 90 percent of private-sector jobs in the country, according to the Future Skills Centre

When instituting a vaccination policy, Comartin said, a Canadian employer in the private sector must still provide medical, disability and religious accommodations as required by human rights legislation.

However, a person who chooses not to be vaccinated based on personal preference will not have the right to accommodation in Canada, Verlint added.

To prepare a companywide vaccination policy, Comartin recommended that employers:

  • Review the requirements and regulations that may apply in their region or to their workplace. For some employers, this may include a vaccine directive that applies at their employees' worksite.
  • Consult guidance from their provincial health authorities. Toronto's medical officer of health has recommended employers develop vaccination policies. Toronto Public Health has provided guidelines to assist employers.
  • Communicate with employees about the policy's goals and plans. Engage with employees about their questions and concerns.
  • Provide employees with the steps and documentation required for an accommodation request.
  • Be clear about what compliance looks like and provide deadlines.
  • Inform employees about the consequences of noncompliance with the policy.
  • Create a process to ensure that employee privacy is protected.

Canadian employers should seek legal advice to assist with drafting and implementing these policies, Comartin added.

"The pandemic has had a detrimental impact on public health, the Canadian economy and on Canadian lives," Comartin concluded. "Employers have an overarching duty to ensure the health and safety of their workers, and vaccination policies are an important part of that effort."

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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