Date Posted

August 26, 2021

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The Alberta Medical Association has called for mandatory vaccines for health care workers, adding to a list of associations and groups making mandatory vaccines a priority.

On Aug. 24, Calgary Sports and Entertainment announced, starting Sept. 15, attendees to live and major sporting events at the Scotiabank Saddledome and McMahon stadium would be required to provide proof of vaccinations. Proof of vaccinations or negative COVID-19 tests must also be presented at Edmonton Oilers games.

All on the heels of an Aug. 13 announcement from the Federal Government with the intent to require vaccinations for federal public service as early as the end of September.

In addition, as soon as possible in the fall and no later than the end of October, the Government of Canada will require employees in the federally regulated air, rail, and marine transportation sectors to be vaccinated. The vaccination requirement will also extend to certain travellers. This includes all commercial air travellers, passengers on interprovincial trains, and passengers on large marine vessels with overnight accommodations, such as cruise ships.

With Alberta seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, the Alberta Government announced Aug. 13, that mandatory masking orders in publicly accessible transit, taxis and ride-shares would continue through Sept. 27 as well as mandatory isolation of 10 days for those with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result and continued testing at assessment centres for anyone with symptoms.

Measures were originally scheduled to be eased Aug. 16 but government announced the extension to provide “additional time to monitor severe outcomes of COVID-19 and increase immunization rates,” as stated in an Aug. 13 press release.

Government encourages Albertans to continue booking appointments for first and second doses to ensure full effectiveness and long-lasting protection. To book vaccinations visit alberta.ca/vaccine or find available appointments with your local pharmacy.

As well, Government is offering vaccination incentives through the Open for Summer Lottery.

Changes in Alberta that took affect on July 29, continue to remain in place. They include:

  • Contact tracers are no longer notifying close contacts about exposure to COVID-19. Individuals are asked to tell their close contacts when informed of their positive result. All positive cases will continue to be notified. Contact tracers will continue to investigate cases that are in high-risk settings such as acute and continuing care facilities.
  • Outbreak management and identification will focus on high-risk locations, including continuing care and acute care facilities. Community outbreaks with a surge in cases leading to severe outcomes will also be addressed as needed.
  • Asymptomatic testing is no longer recommended.

But what does all this mean for the rights of employers and employees?

An Alberta Government “COVID-19 as a workplace hazard” (updated July 30, 2021) bulletin says employers should consider seeking legal advice on issues and laws relating to human rights, labour and employment, privacy, health information and occupational and health and safety before asking for proof of vaccination or implementing mandatory vaccine requirements.

With regards to employer-initiated vaccination mandates the topic is one of debate, however employment standards can provide some guidance.  Employers can have mandatory vaccination policies and terminate staff for not being in compliance as long as it does not infringe on their human rights (ex: medical or religious reasons for non-vaccination) and its a without cause dismissal with appropriate severance paid.

Another emerging issue is staff not wanting to share a workplace with someone who is not vaccinated, or who may refuse to attend work due to COVID introducing a perceived threat to health in the workplace.  Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation can provide guidance in responding to this issue. Employees have the right to refuse dangerous work and report the unsafe conditions to their supervisor. OHS requirements state it’s up to management to decide if a risk exists and to provide appropriate accommodations if one does. If the complainant employee disagrees, they may file a complaint with the ministry and an investigation will occur.

In another Alberta Government bulletin, “Occupational Health and Safety Guidance for Workers: Respiratory Viruses” (updated July 1, 2021) it states employers must assess and control the hazard of respiratory viruses in the workplace and repeat a hazard assessment when there are changes to the working conditions or work process to ensure any new or potential hazards are considered and controlled.

“An employer must involve affected workers in the hazard assessment, and the control or elimination of the hazards identified,” reads the bulletin. “OHS laws require employers to ensure workers have the training they need to work safely. This includes training on new policies, procedures and equipment related to respiratory viruses.”

Staff can expect to see things like floor plans allowing for physical distancing, rules and procedures for visitors to the workplace, cleaning stations, cold and flu symptom policies that reduce infection risk and staggered or adjusted shifts and breaks to reduce the number or workers in one place at one time, to name a few.

Lastly, according to the Government of Canada’s “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Your rights and responsibilities as an employee” landing page: “Under the Canada Labour Code, employees have the right to refuse to do a job if there is reasonable cause to believe that the job presents a danger to themselves or another employee. Employees must be at work in order to legitimately refuse to work.” The Canada Labour Code only applies to Federally-regulated employers.

Employers who want to clarify what is meant by “employees must be at work” can contact the Labour Program to discuss the particulars of their unique situation as it relates to COVID-19.

Always seek legal advice if you are unsure of your rights in regards to human rights, labour and employment, privacy, health information and occupational and health and safety.

COVID protocol updates across Canada

    • Masks are recommended in indoor public spaces for those who are not yet fully vaccinated
    • Travelers from within the Atlantic provinces, who are fully or partially vaccinated, are be able to visit PEI with a PEI Pass