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Last updated: November 3, 2021

Since the implementation of the employer’s mandatory vaccination policy, ACFO-ACAF Labour Relations has received many questions from members about the policy and what it means.

Therefore, we’ve assembled a Q&A to answer your most frequently asked questions. The employer has also created a toolkit for managers with additional information that you can find here: Toolkit for managers (updated November 15).

Please note that this FAQ and the managers’ toolkit are evolving and are subject to change as more information becomes available.

NEW: We’ve also created a help form for members whose accommodation claims have been denied so that our Labour Relations team can assess on a case-by-case basis whether the policy has been followed and your collective agreement have been respected.

All scientific information and links provided come from public health guidance and authorities including the Government of Canada, provincial public health authorities and the Centre for Disease Control.

Vaccination Status and Requirements

What is considered “fully vaccinated” by the policy?

According to Appendix A of the policy, employees are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after they have received both doses of a Health Canada-authorized vaccine.

The definition of “fully vaccinated” will evolve should other vaccines be approved by Health Canada and should boosters be required. There is no provision for waiting for non-approved vaccines or any requirement for boosters until advised.

A list of approved vaccines and additional details of the definition of fully vaccinated can be found in Appendix A.

What will happen if I’m only partially vaccinated by October 29?

As per the vaccination policy, partially vaccinated employees will only be placed on leave without pay if they have not received their second dose within 10 weeks of the date of their first dose.

While you are partially vaccinated, temporary measures will be put in place including telework and mandatory rapid testing if you are required to report to the office.

Do I still need to get vaccinated if I telework only?

Employees who telework are also required to get vaccinated given that telework is not a right under the collective agreement. Unless an agreement is in place as part of the employer’s duty to accommodate, at any time, a telework agreement can be terminated and employees have to be in a position to report to work.

Operational requirements may also necessitate onsite presence for in-person meetings, equipment exchanges and other duties. In the past month, several departments have begun the process of recalling employees to the workplace.

Do I still need to get vaccinated if I’ve already had COVID-19 and have natural antibodies?

Yes. The policy does not provide for an exemption as a result of a previous diagnosis of COVID-19.

The policy does provide that for current residents of Quebec only, fully vaccinated means the employee has had a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection followed by at least 1 dose of a Health Canada authorized COVID-19 vaccine. Definitions may be adjusted from time to time.

Why can’t I submit to regular testing instead of getting vaccinated?

The employer implemented its policy unilaterally after providing all bargaining agents the opportunity to comment. There was no negotiation.

While one of the suggestions from bargaining agents was to use rapid testing as an alternative to vaccination, the employer did not adopt that suggestion. Rapid testing may however be available as part of human rights accommodation.

Will the employer be liable if I get vaccinated and experience side effects?

The employer has not acknowledged liability should the vaccine have side effects. Employee should be aware that vaccination is a personal choice that cannot be imposed. ACFO-ACAF respects employees’ right to choose.

If an employee experiences a side effect that prevents them from working following vaccination, they can request sick leave from their manager.

Should an employee experience a serious adverse event as a result of getting vaccinated, the Vaccine Injury Support Program is available. More information on this program is available here.

For questions of liability, employees are entitled to seek legal advice. This would be at the employee’s personal expense.

What will happen if I refuse to get vaccinated or refuse to disclose my vaccination status?

ACFO-ACAF fully supports an employee’s right to decide if they receive a vaccination and to decide whether to disclose their vaccination status. No employee will be forced to get vaccinated against their will.

However, choosing not to get vaccinated or disclose your vaccination status will result in employment implications. The policy states that all federal public servants must be fully vaccinated by October 29 and that those who are unvaccinated without a valid exemption will be placed on leave without pay for administrative purposes as early as November 15.

Attestation and Exemptions

What are valid human rights-based exemptions for vaccination?

If you have a medical or religious reason not to be vaccinated, you can apply to the employer for a human rights-based exemption to the vaccination requirement by requesting an exemption on your attestation form here. Without supporting documentation, a request for accommodation is likely to be denied and a challenge of the decision would likely be unsuccessful.

An employee requesting a medical accommodation will need to provide written documentation from their treating physician or nurse practitioner with the reason for not receiving or for delaying the COVID-19 vaccine. The note will need to specify whether the reason is permanent or temporary, and if temporary, identify the expected duration.

For religious exemptions, the employer must be satisfied that the employee holds a sincere religious belief that prevents them from being fully vaccinated. The requirement focuses on the sincerity of the individual belief rooted in religion, not whether it is recognized by other members of the same religion. The belief must be religious in nature (not a personal, moral belief) and the employee must explain the nature of the belief and why it prevents vaccination. The manager can request more information if the explanation provided is not sufficient. 

For both exemptions, if they are granted, measures will be put in place including telework and mandatory rapid testing if you are required to report to the office.

If your request for accommodation is denied and you would like assistance, please complete our help form.

I am seeking accommodation but do not want to disclose any medical or personal information. What should I do?

To receive accommodation, employees must be able to support their request by providing necessary documentation to prove they require it.

What recourse do I have if my exemption request is denied?

If you apply for an exemption and are denied, please complete our help form. We will assess whether the employer has followed the policy and your collective agreement. We will advise you of your rights and represent you if warranted.

How do I show proof of vaccination?

The employer requires an attestation (written statement of the employee) of vaccination from every employee, which can be completed in the Government of Canada Vaccine Attestation Tracking System (GC-VATS). Your attestation must be submitted by October 29, 2021.

Can the employer ask me for proof of vaccination even after completing an attestation?

Yes. Similar to requesting sick notes, the employer has the right to request proof of vaccination at any time, such as a vaccine passport or receipt, and has indicated they plan on auditing attestations.

What will happen if I misrepresent my vaccination status on my attestation and can’t produce proof?

Intentionally lying on your attestation of vaccination would be grounds for disciplinary action. The employer would likely consider either suspension or termination for an intentional fraud.

I’m currently on leave. How long will I have to complete the attestation once I return?

Employees currently on leave such as maternity leave or leave without pay will have two weeks to complete their attestation upon their return from leave if their return falls after October 15, 2021.

If you have not received your first dose within two weeks of your attestation deadline (four weeks after your return to work), you will be placed on administrative leave without pay unless you have received an exemption.

Leave Without Pay

If I am unwilling to get vaccinated or disclose my vaccination status, how long will I be placed on leave without pay?

At this point in time, your leave without pay would be indefinite, since many hard-to-predict factors may affect the length and severity of the pandemic.

However, the vaccination policy is currently set to be reviewed every six months. We will also be monitoring the course of the pandemic, and when vaccination is no longer needed according to public health authorities, we will call for the policy to be rescinded.

Will my pension and health care premiums be paid out while I’m on leave without pay?

Pension and health care contributions from the employer stop after three months of leave without pay.

Will employment insurance be paid out while I’m on leave without pay?

The employer has informed us that employees on administrative leave without pay due to this policy will likely not be paid employment insurance.

Will my position be protected while I am on leave without pay?

In the normal course where an employee is on leave without pay for a year or more, the employer can backfill the employee’s position permanently and the employee has priority staffing rights upon their return. The employer has not indicated at this time if they intend on backfilling positions in this manner.

Will employees on leave without pay continue to accumulate seniority and time towards increased pay increments?

As indicated in Article 28.02 of the CT-FIN collective agreement, Article 17.11 of the CT-EAV collective agreement and Article 33.02 of the CT-IAU collective agreement, while employees are on leave without pay, the period of service used to calculate severance pay and vacation leave will be interrupted after a period of three months. In addition, time spent on unpaid leave for a period of more than three months does not count for pay increment purposes.

Can I request another form of leave to avoid being placed on leave without pay, such as vacation leave or sick leave?

ACFO-ACAF had asked for clarification of the employer’s position on eligibility for other forms of leave for those placed on administrative LWOP.If you request and are denied access to another form of paid or unpaid leave prior to or while on administrative LWOP please contact ACFO-ACAF Labour Relations and we will investigate, advise you of your rights and represent you if warranted.

Can I file a grievance for being put on leave without pay?

The employer is taking the position that this is administrative leave without pay and therefore not disciplinary, so you may not have the ability to grieve. Administrative leave is sometimes used in circumstances where an employee lacks the capacity to work. In this case the employer has determined that unvaccinated persons pose an unacceptable health and safety risk to the workplace.

Please complete our help form to contact ACFO-ACAF Labour Relations and we’ll analyze on a case-by-case basis whether you’re able to grieve based on whether the policy has been followed and whether your collective agreement rights have been respected.

ACFO-ACAF’s Position

Will ACFO-ACAF be grieving the employer’s policy?

ACFO-ACAF is not grieving the vaccination policy. Our legal analysis is that the employer is within its rights to implement the policy to protect public safety and that the policy itself does not violate legislation, the collective agreement or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

If the application of the policy leads to circumstances that violate our agreement, the policy or the Charter ACFO-ACAF may grieve.  If you have not been treated fairly in accordance with the policy please contact Labour Relations and we will look at your situation to assess whether there has been a violation of the policy, collective agreement or legislation and will advise and represent you if warranted.

Is having to disclose my medical or religious information a violation of my personal privacy?

Your personal information is yours to disclose or not disclose. However, your choice not to disclose personal information has an impact on your employment rights. 

We have reviewed the privacy protections in place as part of this policy and they are compliant with privacy laws.

Will ACFO-ACAF represent me if I refuse to be vaccinated or disclose my vaccination status?

If you refuse to be vaccinated or disclose your vaccination status for a valid human rights-based exemption (see above for what qualifies), prior to seeking representation from ACFO-ACAF, please ensure that you have first sought out accommodation as set out in the policy.

If your request for accommodation has been denied, please complete our help form and we will analyze on a case-by-case basis whether the policy has been followed and whether your collective agreement rights have been respected.

However, please note that refusing due to personal beliefs are not protected grounds under human rights legislation. Therefore, ACFO-ACAF cannot represent you in these circumstances, as the employer has no legal duty to accommodate.

Additional Questions

What if I have a question about the vaccine policy that hasn’t been answered here?

For any additional questions, please contact Labour Relations at labourrelations@acfo-acaf.com.

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