The employment insurance section of the Government of Canada website is shown on a laptop. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jesse Johnston

The employment insurance section of the Government of Canada website is shown on a laptop. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jesse Johnston

Workers fired for refusing vaccines likely won’t get EI, minister says

Federal Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said refusing vaccination would be just cause for firing

Workers who face losing their jobs for refusing to get vaccinated may also find themselves unable to collect EI.

In an interview with CBC’s Power and Politics, Federal Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said employees who lose their jobs for refusing to be vaccinated should not be able to access EI.

Qualtrough explained that vaccination would be considered a condition of employment and failure to meet that condition would be considered just cause for termination.

EI benefits are intended to provide security for people who lose employment through no fault of their own. EI benefits cover 55 per cent of average wages to a maximum of $595 per week. Benefits can last from 14 weeks up to a maximum of 45 weeks depending on regional unemployment rates.

Facing ‘instantaneous economic ruin’

Vancouver employment lawyer Dan Balkaran, an associate at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP said that financial risks for defying vaccination requirements go beyond issues around collecting EI.

“I talk to these people every day. These are working families, these are people who have children they need to feed. They have to pay rent and mortgages. If they don’t get a COVID vaccine we’re talking about instantaneous economic ruin.”

Balkaran noted there is an important distinction between government-mandated vaccine requirements and policies made by private employers.

Legislation or public health orders that mandate vaccination extinguishes employees’ rights to severance pay, which is typically paid out when employees are fired without notice. Without access to EI, those people would be left with few options.

“We’re talking about all the layers of safety we’ve developed over generations to protect Canadians from the ravages of unemployment. For some people and some families, this is destitution immediately.”

When it comes to private employers, there may be room for accommodations like allowing people to work from home. But if accommodations can’t be reached, Balkaran said people need to take a sober analysis of what matters to them and consider getting vaccinated.

“If you are 53 years old making $85,000 a year with no university education, you can’t lose your job because you’re not coming back into the workforce and making that kind of money again.”

Balkaran said it’s difficult for some employees to know whether they’re covered by a government mandate and encouraged anyone facing loss of work due to vaccine mandates to get legal advice.

“Talk to a lawyer before you lose your job. Give your lawyer the best chance to give you proper advice to help you make the best decision.”


@SchislerCole
cole.schisler@bpdigital.ca

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