After an initially slow start in December 2020, Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination program has hit its stride. By April 15, 2021, more than 3.52 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered across the province of Ontario, with nearly 340,000 Ontarians being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at that time. One month later, the Ontario Government had administered 6.92 million vaccine doses, with the number of fully-vaccinated Ontarians rising to almost 423,000. Concurrently, employers have begun contemplating mandatory vaccination policies or on-site vaccination clinics as a means for preventing occupational COVID-19 exposure.
Against this backdrop, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (“WSIB”) has confirmed that entitlement for COVID-19 vaccination will be adjudicated in a manner consistent with its existing Operational Policy Document #15-04-10: Immunization Against Infectious Disease. Specifically, vaccination against COVID-19 may attract entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits if the following criteria are met:
- The worker must have received a COVID-19 vaccine as a compulsory part of their employment. Vaccination will generally be considered compulsory where an employer has a rule or policy requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This criterion may also be satisfied if an employer uses some element of coercion (e.g. threatened employment termination, job changes, or other penalties) for COVID-19 vaccination. However, the mere presence of a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on an employer’s premises will not automatically lead to a determination that the COVID-19 vaccine was work-related or a compulsory part of employment.
- The worker must have experienced an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. For the purposes of WSIB entitlement, the worker’s reaction to a vaccine must be serious and unexpected. In determining whether a vaccine reaction is adverse, the WSIB will consider whether:
a. The reaction is serious and unexpected, such as the allergic, systemic, neurologic, or other reactions that Public Health Ontario has identified as being “adverse events following immunization”;
b. The reaction requires medical treatment beyond first aid; and
c. The worker requires an absence from work of more than a few days as a result of the reaction.
Common side effects to COVID-19 vaccination (e.g. soreness around the injection site, fever, chills, headache, and fatigue that resolve on their own in a few days) will not trigger WSIB benefits entitlement nor WSIB reporting obligations.
If a worker experiences an adverse reaction to a vaccine that was received as a compulsory part of employment, they should immediately report this to their employer. In turn, the employer will be required to report the worker’s vaccine reaction to the WSIB in accordance with its standard injury/illness reporting obligations.
The costs associated with COVID-19 vaccination claims will not be charged against an individual employer or their class; instead, such costs will be allocated on a Schedule-wide level. Similarly, an incident of adverse COVID-19 vaccine reaction will not be shown against an individual employer’s record nor impact its premium rate.
The WSIB’s new guidelines likely provide some welcome direction to workplace parties as they continue to weather through the COVID-19 pandemic. As the prospect of returning to on-site work looms larger, it will be interesting to see what other workplace supports will be provided by the WSIB.
About the author
Cassandra Ma is Legal Counsel for Canada Post Corporation and the 2020-2021 Vice Chair of the OBA’s Workers’ Compensation Section. Prior to joining Canada Post, Cassandra practiced labour and employment law with a leading management-side firm in Toronto. She specializes in the areas of collective agreement interpretation, grievance arbitration, disability management, human rights, and workers’ compensation law.
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