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Employees Injured By Vaccination Have Options for Govt Support!
Many employees in Alberta and throughout Canada are frightened and concerned about getting vaccinated with the new COVID-19 vaccines, in many cases as compelled by their employers.
To be clear, this article is not suggesting the vaccines are not safe. While there are some potential side effects to the COVID-19 vaccines, there is a lot of publicly available data on the subject and the odds of side effects so far seem very low, especially as compared to the odds of serious disease for unvaccinated people who contract COVID-19.
The purpose of this article is to inform employees and employers about what options employees have in the unlikely event they do experience an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine.
In my own employment law practice lately, I hear about employees’ fears and concerns about being required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on a near-daily basis. These are the most common fears and concerns I am hearing about:
- Some are frightened because the COVID-19 vaccines are all relatively new, and their long-term effects cannot yet be known.
- Some are frightened because they have medical conditions, where vaccination has been shown to increase risk of health complications or where the employee believes it might increase that risk.
- Some are concerned because vaccination generally offends their religious beliefs, or because these particular vaccines offend their religious beliefs.
- Some are concerned because being compelled with respect to anything medical offends their religious or other beliefs.
- Some are concerned because there are some potential side effects to these COVID-19 vaccinations
- Some are concerned that, if they follow their employer’s demand for vaccination, but ultimately they are injured by the vaccine, that they will get no financial support or recovery.
It is currently unclear whether most employers have the right to require vaccinations, as it may be a violation of the employees’ privacy rights or could amount to constructive dismissal or discrimination.
This particular article is really just about the last bullet-point: what support do employees have if they are compelled to vaccinate but they get injured in the process?
Workers Compensation Board
If employees are asked to get vaccinated and they are injured, their first attempt for recovery should be through the Alberta Workers Compensation Board.
Please keep in mind that not all employees are covered by WCB in Alberta. Employers in some industries are not required to obtain WCB coverage for their employees, and the employees are only covered if the employer has voluntarily obtained the coverage. There are many industries covered by this, most of which are things like office jobs where the risk of injury to workers is lower than in other industries.
Alberta WCB released a bulletin earlier this year which outlines the possibility for coverage for employees injured by vaccination. That bulletin states:
If a worker has an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccination, they are entitled to compensation when the immunization is a mandatory condition of employment:
“When immunization is required for the prevention of a work-related disease or infection and as a result of a reaction to this compulsory immunization a worker experiences a loss of earnings, WCB will consider the reaction and its consequences to be compensable.”
When will WCB not accept a COVID-19 vaccination reaction?
When the vaccination is recommended but not a requirement of employment. Thus, the choice remains with the worker and there are no employment repercussions from this choice.
So if employers make vaccination mandatory, employees that are injured by the vaccination can get WCB coverage. There are many situations I have seen already where it would be difficult to determine if the employer has made it “mandatory”, such as where there is another option that is really onerous, like constant rapid tests at the employee’s expense. WCB will have to adjudicate those on a case by case basis.
Government of Canada Coverage
Where an employee is either not covered by WCB or cannot obtain WCB coverage, they might still be able to get coverage through the Government of Canada’s Vaccine Injury Support Program.
This program provides coverage for anyone experiences serious and permanent injury after receiving a Health Canada-approved vaccine, administered in Canada on or after December 8, 2020. The program is not specific to employees, but anyone (including employees) can get coverage if they otherwise qualify. The supports available may include:
- Income replacement
- Payment for injuries
- Death benefits including funeral expenses
- Other eligible costs, such as uncovered medical expenses
To determine if you are eligible, you need to make an application for coverage.
Where an employee is injured by vaccination but cannot obtain coverage through WCB or Canada’s Vaccine Injury Support Program, they may be able to obtain Short Term Disability or Long Term Disability coverage, or in some cases may be able to sue their employer.