COVID-19 Case Law: Vaccination Policy is Justified

COVID-19 related case law continues to pour in.  In this Insights article we review the case of Teamsters Local Union 847 v Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE).

The Facts

In this case, an employee had been working for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) for 10 years. The employee’s role was to change over the Scotiabank Arena venue between events. It was common to have up to 100 people working in close quarters at the event level floor.

MLSE implemented a policy requiring its employees to be fully vaccinated by no later than October 31, 2021. Employees were asked to disclose their vaccination status through a portal and provide records that would be kept confidential. Access to the portal would be on a need-to-know basis.

The grievor refused to disclose his vaccination status as required by the policy and the employer responded by placing him on an unpaid leave of absence.

The Union argued that the collective agreement entitled the employee to work opportunities based on seniority, and that article 13.01 of the agreement does not state that failure to disclose vaccine status would affect the ability and skill of the employee to perform the available work. They also argued that article 13.05 provided a guarantee of 80 hours pay per pay period which was denied. They argued that an employee’s vaccination status is private information and should not be subject to disclosure in the circumstances of the case.

The Decision

The Arbitrator found that the vaccination policy was justified by the employer’s obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for protection of its workers, especially so where employees work in close proximity to each other.

The Arbitrator stated that an employer cannot enforce a vaccine mandate without requiring disclosure of an employee’s vaccine status. The Arbitrator made it clear that employers are entitled to seek disclosure of an employee’s vaccine status to the extent necessary to administer the vaccine policy. A vaccine mandate is a reasonable and appropriate approach to fulfilling its duties under OHSA for the protection of all workers in its employ.

The Arbitrator found that the employer did not violate the collective agreement or any relevant legislation by requiring vaccine status disclosure. Accordingly, placing him on an unpaid leave of absence for refusing to disclose vaccine status was justified. The grievance was dismissed.

Why is this case important?

This case is important for employers in essential services settings in particular because it reinforces the employer’s right to require the disclosure of vaccination status and to hold employees out of work who refuse to do so.  While the grievance in this case was not an express challenge to the vaccination mandate itself, the outcome is a tacit recognition that the mandate was reasonable and that leave of absence for non-compliance is also a reasonable consequence.

This decision allows for reasonable medical information to be collected and used by employers to ensure that an employee’s vaccination status is in compliance with internal mandates and to keep people safe. This is true, as long as there are procedures in place to secure and protect the confidentiality of such information. The information in this case was to be anonymous. It was only available to select employees on a need-to-know basis.

PooranLaw will continue to monitor the ongoing legal developments related to COVID-19. In the meantime, if you require legal assistance, we encourage you to reach out to your regular PooranLaw lawyer, or any member of our team.

Note: This article provides general information only and does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice or opinion. PooranLaw Professional Corporation holds the copyright to this article and the article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of PooranLaw Professional Corporation.