As vaccination rates continue rising and public health restrictions have eased, many businesses are considering implementing vaccination status policies. Recently, the BC's Office of the Human Rights Commissioner released its policy guidance, "A human rights approach to proof of vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic," which outlines the key human rights considerations for organizations developing any policies on vaccination status.
According to the Commissioner, policies must be developed with a balanced approach towards protecting collective health and safety, by ensuring that individual rights of those who are unvaccinated are also upheld. It is of utmost importance that organizations are not inadvertently discriminating against individuals who have not been vaccinated due to a characteristic protected under BC's Human Rights Code (i.e. physical or mental disability, place of origin, religion, family status, etc.). However, those who have chosen to remain unvaccinated due to personal preference do not have grounds to file human rights complaints against someone enforcing a vaccination status policy.
The guidance outlines the limited circumstances under which organizations can implement a vaccination status policy i.e. a proof-of-vaccination requirement. Any policies must adhere to these six principles:
- Equitable access
- Time limited
- Proportional to the health risk
- Necessary and minimally intrusive
- Respectful of privacy rights
Explanations of each principle is provided in the document. Of particular note, vaccination status policies should only be implemented in cases where less intrusive means of preventing COVID-19 transmission are inadequate for the specific setting.
Employers must also be cognizant of their duty to accommodate to the point of "undue hardship" in cases where individuals cannot be vaccinated. No specific examples are provided but generally speaking, employers must take all possible steps to address required accommodations except when it would be "inordinately expensive" or the health and safety of others would be put at risk. Reasonable accommodations could include requiring the individual to wear a mask, work remotely, maintaining physical distance while working, etc.
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