Most workplaces have now implemented a COVID-19 vaccination policy that requires their employees to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination. However, a significant portion of workers has shown resistance to becoming vaccinated. In response, employers have taken various measures to enforce the vaccination policy – one of them being, terminating those who refuse to take the vaccine or disclose their proof of vaccination with just cause.
What is just cause for termination?
Just cause in the employment context means that an employee has done something that gives the employer a right to dismiss the employee immediately. When there is just cause for termination, the employer does not need to provide the employee with advanced notice, pay in-lieu, or any other severance package.
Common types of just cause include:
- Dishonesty: Situations that are deemed to be dishonesty in the workplace are, for example, when an employee submits inaccurate claims for overtime pay or sick leave benefits, accepts kickbacks from suppliers, or steals company property.
- Insubordination: when an employee intentionally refuses to obey the lawful and reasonable directions of his employer within the scope of their employment.
- Insolence: when an employee uses unacceptable or abusive language, generally directed at a superior
- Off-duty conduct: If an employer can justify that an employee’s off-duty conduct harmed it’s business or reputation, the employer can most likely dismiss the employee for cause.
Is refusing to comply with the vaccination policy a just cause?
The short answer is: it depends. The law has not been conclusive on the topic as many lawsuits in this area have just begun. In the recent outcome of the arbitration, Electrical Safety Authority v Power Workers’ Union*, employers may have just cause to discipline employees, including and up to termination, if an employee is unable to perform any work for a substantial period of time or if they are being unreasonable in complying with any reasonable alternative. In other words, each situation is unique, and they must be assessed individually to determine whether or not it gives the employer just cause.
For example, if you have the ability to work remotely most, if not all, of the time, this may be a case where the employer does not have just cause to terminate you for refusing to follow the vaccine policy. On the other hand, if you work onsite with vulnerable people like children and seniors, not following the vaccine policy could likely give your employer just cause to dismiss you.
On another note, if you have a valid human rights reason (such as medical or religious) for refusing to follow the vaccination policy, your employer is generally required to provide you with the accommodation you need.
If you have been terminated with just cause or you need to provide your employer with a medical or religious exemption for not following a workplace vaccination policy, we can help. Contact us today.
*If you are interested in learning more about the decision in Electrical Safety Authority v Power Workers’ Union, read our blog post: https://www.debousquet.com/blog/2021/12/14/the-power-workers-union-covid-19-vaccine-policy/
Disclaimer: This article is meant for informational purposes only. This does not constitute legal advice or opinion.