The re-elected liberal federal government is raising the possibility that workers fired for failing to comply with an employer’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate might not be eligible for employment insurance.
In an interview for this week’s issue of The west blockEmployment Minister Carla Qualtrough said firing for failure to adhere to a workplace policy – in this case, vaccination – would likely leave people without IE coverage.
“Because, of course, a fundamental principle of the EI program is that applicants have to lose their job through no fault of their own, and this would typically be considered as an option,” he said.
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“Right now we are still in the middle of this pandemic and we need people to be vaccinated, we need workers to be vaccinated, of course they can.”
The policy could have a significant impact in British Columbia, which has mandated that all healthcare workers and government employees be immunized against COVID-19.
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As of this week, approximately 5,500 healthcare workers had yet to be vaccinated, along with 1,800 employees in long-term care and 300 in assisted living facilities.
There are about 31,000 public service workers in British Columbia, and while her union couldn’t provide a firm number on who had yet to be vaccinated, if it followed provincial averages, it would amount to about 1,500 people.
Dan Balkaran, a labor attorney at Vancouver-based Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, said the federal government was leaving people with few options.
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“With regard to the Ministry of Labor, that is what they are doing and that is what is going to happen. The vast majority of people will have their right to EI taken away, ”he said.
“Which means the primary emergency safety net laid off employees go to to put food on their table, pay their mortgages, that sort of thing while looking for a new job. That’s going to be eliminated for those people, so I think it’s very serious. “
The BC General Employees Union (BCGEU), representing BC public service workers, recently held a webinar for staff, including a labor attorney and a physician from the BC Center for Disease Control, to advise to workers about their rights and options, and to try to provide members with clear information. about vaccines.
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Choosing not to get vaccinated could be a life-changing decision, he said, and while some members were eager to fight EI’s mandate or policy, it could leave them in a long fight with no guarantee of winning.
“Those who are still hesitating or who have not made a decision yet, they need the facts, they need to know the potential results of whatever decision they are making,” said union president Stephanie Smith.
“I am so fed up and tired of pseudoscience and pseudo-law adversely affecting people, be it through job loss, illness, and worst case scenario, death.”
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Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said federal policy appeared to “punish people who are not vaccinated” and questioned whether it would remain in court.
“They have paid, now they no longer work, it surprises me,” he said.
“I suspect that the chances of someone at the end of the day losing their EI coverage or losing their salary as a result of a vaccine mandate, I suspect is not going to last long. I suspect the courts are going to reject those kinds of ideas pretty quickly. “
But while workers who lose their jobs will have the right to challenge an EI override and could also file legal challenges, they would be without income in the short term, Balkaran warned.
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“The purpose of EI is emergency money to help you survive right now, and if it takes you six months to get that money, it’s really counterproductive,” he said.
Balkaran said that for many of his clients, vaccine mandates are an emotional issue, but said anyone potentially affected by EI’s mandates and policy should step back and try to weigh their options without passion.
“You need to evaluate what is important to you. If you are 53 years old without a college education and you earn $ 85,000 per year and you need to retire, you cannot lose that job, ”he said.
“So is there a friendly solution that you can come up with with the employer, like working remotely? And if not, you should carefully analyze the possibility of getting vaccinated, because you are facing the possibility of financial ruin. “
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