Effective April 21, 2021, Alberta employers must give employees job-protected leave to receive COVID-19 vaccinations without any loss of pay or benefits. Currently, most vaccines require two injections. If vaccines require a third (or more) injections in the future, they too would be covered by the legislative changes to the Alberta Employment Standards Code(ESC). Employers must provide an employee with either:
- up to a maximum of 3 consecutive hours, or
- a longer period than that if, in the opinion of the employer, the circumstances warrant it.
Key to the second point is that there is an obligation on the employer to at least consider whether or not further time is legitimately needed. An employee going to a walk-in clinic to get vaccinated sooner because there are no appointments available for days would be an example, as would an employee needing to travel from a workplace to access a vaccination. Exercising the discretion will likely be interpreted as requiring an employer to be reasonable in coming to its decision.
The employee is required to give as much notice as is ‘reasonable and practicable in the circumstances’. For workplace health and safety purposes, employers should be as flexible as they can be, as having vaccinated workers can significantly contribute to safer workplaces and employees not being critically (or even fatally) impacted by COVID-19. This is especially the case in public facing and ‘front-line’ environments or other higher risk workplaces.
The leave is available to all employees, regardless of their position or time spent working for their employer, and can be used twice for all COVID-19 vaccines that need two doses. Bill 71 does not require employees to provide their employers with medical certificates, records of immunization, or to disclose any underlying medical conditions in order to be eligible for the leave.
The Employment Standards (COVID-19 Vaccination Leave) Amendment Act, 2021 (Bill 71) was introduced and passed unanimously into law all within the Legislative Assembly of Alberta’s April 21st evening session and amends the ESC. This legislative change follows similar leaves introduced in Saskatchewan and British Columbia since March 2021.
When announcing the new leave late yesterday, Alberta’s Minister of Labour and Immigration, Jason Copping, acknowledged that before this amendment many workers faced a loss of pay, which was a barrier to being vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccination leave is intended to address this issue, encourage further vaccination across Alberta as new cases continue to rise throughout the province, and act as a step toward re-opening Alberta’s economy amidst the ongoing pandemic.
Minister Copping encouraged employers and employees to work together on scheduling this leave wherever possible to minimize any negative impact on businesses and employees alike. Employers are encouraged to prepare communications to their employees regarding the COVID‑19 vaccination leave, and use the communication as an opportunity to encourage employees to be vaccinated. Including links to accurate sources of information about the benefits, efficacy, and risks of vaccines is also helpful, as is encouraging employees to reach out to their doctor with any questions or concerns. Lastly, it is a really good way of reminding employees (whether or not they are vaccinated) that workplace controls to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 still need to continue for the time being.
This new leave has operational and economic impacts on employers. However, in our experience, many employers either had – or were considering – a workplace policy like this, as they see the big picture operational and economic benefits of employees being vaccinated.
If you have any questions about this matter, other COVID-19 related issues, or would like any other workplace law assistance, please contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s COVID-19 website resources.