Could refusing COVID-19 vaccine or lying about it get you fired?

Woman working. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / rasstock.

There has been a lot of debate about whether or not workers in Ontario should be forced to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

One labour and employment lawyer says people should not be surprised if they are given a choice: get the vaccine or get fired.

Howard Levitt, a senior partner at LSCS Law in Toronto, claims an employer can make vaccination mandatory, subject to medical and religious exemptions, before allowing an employee to return to the workplace. Levitt said employers are within their rights to demand that workers are vaccinated to keep the workplace safe, adding that failure to keep workers safe can leave the employer open to lawsuits. Levitt said refusing to get vaccinated or making excuses about why you do not want to get vaccinated can be grounds for dismissal.

“In Ontario and other provinces, an employer can ask about a worker’s vaccination status as part of their obligation to keep the workplace safe, ” said Levitt. “In fact, employers can insist that employees disclose their vaccination status. If an employee refuses to disclose their vaccination status, or is dishonest about it, they can lose their job.”

With more vaccine doses becoming available and employers wanting to start bringing people back to work in the coming months, Levitt said he’s been asked by people who have been working from home if they have to disclose their vaccination status if asked by the employer. Likewise, he’s hearing from employers who want to know if they are allowed to ask about the vaccination status of their employees.

The Ministry of Labour has confirmed workplaces in Ontario can make vaccines mandatory if they want, but it’s not required by law. In a statement, the ministry confirmed that workplaces can also ask their employees to prove they have been vaccinated or the workers can get fired if they refuse to answer questions about their status or lie about it.

“Most Ontario employers have obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations to protect workers from hazards in the workplace, including infectious diseases. The OHSA does not require employers to mandate immunizations of employees in the workplace,” read the statement. “The Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) does not address mandatory vaccinations. However, if an employer ends the employment of an employee because they refused to be vaccinated, the employee may be entitled to termination pay and severance pay under the ESA. In most cases, when an employer ends the employment of an employee who has been continuously employed for three months, the employer must provide the employee with either written notice of termination or termination pay.”

The ministry admitted there are some ethical and legal issues (e.g. human rights and labour relations) that may come with forcing workers to get a vaccination or disclosing their vaccine status in order to maintain their employment, but added that decision is up to the workplaces and goes beyond what is required in Ontario.