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Vaccination status policies should heed human rights: commissioner

Being an anti-vaxxer not grounds for human rights complaint against employer, states new guidance.
B.C.'s human rights commissioner says vaccination status policies are OK as long as they do not intrude on people's rights under the law.

Employers, landlords and service providers can implement COVID-19 vaccination status policies in limited circumstances but only if less intrusive means of transmission prevention are inadequate, B.C.’s human rights commissioner says.

“No one’s safety should be put at risk because of others’ personal choices not to receive a vaccine,” a recently released guidance said. “Just as importantly, no one should experience harassment or unjustifiable discrimination when there are effective alternatives to vaccination status policies.”

Commissioner Kasari Govender’s office said vaccination status policies should be justified by scientific evidence relevant to the specific context, time-limited and regularly reviewed, proportional to the risks they seek to address, necessary due to a lack of less-intrusive alternatives and respectful of privacy laws.

And, the office said, accommodation must be made for those who cannot receive a vaccine to the point of undue hardship where the accommodation would create health and safety risks for others or would be inordinately expensive.

“Those accommodations should be based on the individual needs of those involved and should be as easy and unburdensome as possible,” it said.

“Every measure must be taken to eliminate barriers to access for people who would like to receive a vaccination against COVID-19.” 

And, the guidance made it clear that “a person who chooses not to get vaccinated as a matter of personal preference — especially where that choice is based on misinformation or misunderstandings of scientific information — does not have grounds for a human rights complaint against a duty bearer implementing a vaccination status policy.”

That said, any such decision on that issue ultimately falls to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, which has yet to weigh in on the matter.

The guidance also stressed policies can’t have a one-size-fits all approach.

“Those who are marginalized in our society are most likely to experience harms associated with the pandemic,” the paper reads. “Vaccination status policies may further perpetuate inequities that affect vaccine access and uptake. However, such policies may also protect people who are not vaccinated due to inequities. The details matter.”

The document noted some employers might consider requiring employees in some workplaces to prove they have been vaccinated while service providers may consider restricting unvaccinated individuals from entering establishments.

While the guidance doesn’t address what those opposed to vaccines may desire, it does say that a balance must be struck between the rights of people who have not received a vaccine due to a personal characteristic protected in B.C.’s Human Rights Code and individual and collective rights to health and safety.

Examples of barriers people may experience in being unable to be vaccinated include:

• language barriers or a lack of access to a phone or internet connection make it more difficult for some to find information about vaccination;

• migrant and undocumented workers without health numbers being unaware they are eligible for the vaccine or concerned about revealing their immigration status.

• those with disabilities or mental illnesses having difficulty booking or going to vaccine appointments;

• people with certain medical conditions waiting for the results of additional clinical trials to ensure their safety, and:

• precarious or low-wage workers with multiple jobs and caregiving responsibilities who may lack the time or resources to get to a vaccination site, even when provided leave from work.

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