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BC’s Vaccine Passport: Employer Considerations

Guest
August 30, 2021

This is an evolving issue, and the advice and information here is subject to change. There are also unique requirements depending on your health region and business, which may not be addressed here. The provincial government is expected to release more detailed implementation information relating to the vaccine card, including practical guidance for businesses, in the upcoming days and weeks.

People are frustrated, relieved, anxious, scared, angry, or otherwise emotional about the ongoing steps being taken by governments across the country to manage COVID-19 risk, depending on their individual perspective.

Most recently in BC, those steps included re-imposition of mandatory masking in indoor spaces, and, more controversially, the introduction of a vaccine card to access non-essential services throughout BC – see my colleague David’s post for my a great take on this issue: https://ascentemploymentlaw.ca/blog/vaccine-status-requirement/.

Overview of the Vaccine Card

By September 13, 2021, all individuals born in 2009 or earlier (including from out-of-province) will be required to have one dose of the vaccine for entry into non-essential services.

By October 24, 2021, entry will require people to be fully vaccinated.

Non-essential services include:

·         Indoor ticketed events (such as theatre, symphony and sporting events)

·         Indoor and outdoor dining

·         Nightclubs and casinos

·         Movie theatres

·         Gyms and recreational facilities

·         Indoor gatherings (including conferences and workshops)

Businesses will be expected to ask to see proof of vaccination and valid government ID in order for individuals to access their services.

In terms of what will constitute “proof of vaccination”, the BC government will be providing access to proof of vaccination for BC residents through a secure online system by September 13. It is anticipated this will allow individuals to have a QR code saved to their smart phone or other device, although allowances are also being made for people without access to that technology.

The government advised it has been working with BC’s Privacy Commissioner to ensure the technology for verifying immunization records is compliant with BC’s privacy laws. 

It is less clear what will be considered valid proof of vaccination for out-of-province visitors, other than an “officially recognized vaccine record” and ID from the same province or territory. International visitors will be expected to show the proof of vaccination used to enter Canada, and their passport.

The order is currently in place until January 31, 2022, subject to extension.

Overview of the Mask Mandate

As of August 25, 2021, masks are once again required in all public indoor settings for individuals 12 years or old. The order is extensive, and includes places like malls, common areas of office buildings, retail stores, restaurants (if not seated at a table), and common areas of fitness or rec centers.

Importantly, exemptions remain for individuals who have a medical reason that prevents them from wearing the mask, people who are unable to remove masks on their own, and people who need to remove their mask to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired.

The BC government has confirmed that a face shield is not an appropriate substitute for a mask.

The mask requirement is expected to be reassessed once BC’s vaccine card has been fully implemented in mid-October.  

Considerations for Employers

Two important considerations for employers in relation to the above:

 

(1)    Staff Health & Safety

 

Your obligation to ensure a safe workplace for your employees extends beyond limiting the transmission of COVID-19. The above measures are going to have to be enforced by your employees, which can be challenging, particularly in the service industry.

 

Start taking steps now to ensure your staff will be protected from situations where enforcing the vaccine card or mask mandate puts them in an unsafe situation, including being the target of verbal abuse or harassment.

 

Examples of protective steps include ensuring employees do not work alone, hiring additional or temporary security, and providing clear guidance and training on how to respond to a potentially unsafe situation, including in the form of an irate customer.

 

(2)    Reconciling with Personal Beliefs

 

We appreciate some employers (and employees) may be uncomfortable requesting individuals vaccination status, or feel it is unfair to require it.

 

Regardless of personal viewpoints, businesses will be expected to follow the requirements set out by the provincial government, which will remain the law unless legally struck down, amended, or repealed. Businesses can expect the requirement will be enforced, and may face fines or other penalties for non-compliance, similar to those seen in relation to other COVID-19 requirements.

 

In the announcement relating to vaccine cards, Dr. Henry analogized the requirement to the law requiring businesses that sell alcohol to ID individuals to confirm they are legal drinking age. This can be a useful framing mechanism when explaining the requirements to your employees, and also provide guidance as to practical implementation.

 

In many ways, businesses can consider this an alternative to another shutdown, and anticipate that for the majority of BC residents (who are fully vaccinated), this will be seen as an incentive to use your business, and not the opposite.

If you have questions relating to COVID-19, you should get legal advice that is specific to your situation.  Contact us to discuss!