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.