MRSA response to MRU Mandatory Vaccination Policy

Dear MRSA Members,

Knowing mandatory vaccination is a contentious issue, the MRSA would like to provide you with some information to enable informed decision making regarding vaccination mandates for employees.  This is not advice to determine if vaccination is the correct choice for individuals, as we are not medical providers or advisors.  This is advice to inform you on your employment rights and responsibilities.  For advice regarding vaccinations, we recommend that you consult your medical provider and public health experts.

Prior to the MRU and Government of Alberta announcements regarding vaccination mandates or exemptions, the MRSA obtained legal advice pursuant to the employer’s right to do so. This was done in anticipation of ensuring we are able to support our members’ legal rights in the workplace.

In short, our lawyers advised that employers have the right to mandate vaccinations in the workplace where there are sufficient safety concerns.  Furthermore, our lawyer advises that arbitrators will view vaccinations as a normal social requirement, with noted exceptions based on human rights (medical and religious exemptions).  Because of the increasing volatility of the COVID-19 pandemic, our employer is following necessary and required health and safety mitigation for the workplace by mandating vaccinations, and the MRSA does support the employer meeting its responsibilities to have a safe and healthy workplace. The legal opinion stated that employers must balance the operational needs of the work place with privacy considerations, human rights and consideration of the invasiveness of this mandate.  In addition to this, MRU must follow Government of Alberta requirements.  

It is invasive to require vaccination and proof of that vaccination as a term of employment.  However, given the proportionate health and safety considerations as the global pandemic continues, it is the legal opinion of our lawyers that an arbitrator would view this policy as being reasonable. In Canada and Alberta, the jurisprudence regarding appropriate safety measures is well developed and has been in place for over 30 years.

Our employer has stated that if you have a human rights request for a workplace accommodation, you may submit this to HR. A health need or faith based belief must be substantiated for accommodation of an exemption from the workplace vaccination mandate.  

Details are provided in the Process for Workplace Accommodation Requests.

The employer is required to ensure that your private information is maintained in a manner that is compliant with the applicable privacy legislation.  The employer has assured us that they are abiding by the according legislation and we will continue to hold them accountable to these requirements.  The employer is not allowed to release this personal private information to other employees as it is highly confidential.

If you have any negative consequences from obtaining the vaccination you can submit a WCB claim. If a worker has an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccination, they may be entitled to compensation when the immunization is a mandatory condition of employment. 

Much has been said about personal choice regarding vaccinations; the MRSA won’t dispute that individuals have autonomy and free choice to obtain a vaccination. However, a personal choice must be considered with the understanding of consequences to your employment relationship with MRU and that this choice not a human rights protected ground (Alberta Human Rights statement on Vaccinations).  

The contract of employment is also a choice, and therefore employees have obligations to maintain employment, including following prescribed mandates of employment.  Should you choose not to abide by the MRU directive of mandatory vaccination, the employer may find you insubordinate and could terminate your employment with cause. The  MRSA would have limited ability to refute an employee’s choice to be insubordinate.

Please be thoughtful about understanding each other’s rights. Human rights protected grounds are considered inalterable and sometimes are not visible, particularly with the circumstances relating to vaccinations. Some may not be able to vaccinate and others may not be able to wear masks.  We all have responsibilities to protect each other from discrimination so please be careful of making assumptions.

Finally, please be kind. Whether you agree or disagree with your colleagues on their personal choices, we need to be respectful of each other. We are humans and we need to live and work together. 

As always, please reach out to Laine Fowler, MRSA Labour Relations Officer for further information.

Thank you.

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