Vaccines, the Workplace and Other Public Spaces

Revised: September 13, 2021 3:35 PM (ADT)

For the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 in Nova Scotia please visit novascotia.ca/coronavirus

Key information about vaccines and human rights

  • When Phase 5 of Nova Scotia's COVID-19 recovery plan begins there will no longer be a requirement to wear a mask in public or workplaces that do not ordinarily require employees to wear a mask.   Businesses will be allowed to compile and enforce their own policies around mask wearing and social distancing.  School-age children, school staff, and teachers will be required to wear a mask until September 20, 2021.  Public Health strongly recommends mask-wearing in public places, but it will not be mandatory. 
  • As of October 4, 2021, the Government of Nova Scotia has indicated proof of vaccination for COVID-19 will be required to attend non-essential, discretionary recreation, and leisure services.   For essential services such as grocery stores, drug stores, and medical offices, it should not be necessary to show proof of vaccination to attend. 
  • Currently, we know the following health issues may require consultation from a doctor before a vaccination is given and therefore people who fall under these types of illnesses could be exempt.  Please note that they are all vaccine-related.  If you have any other illness that may require an exemption, then you should work with your doctor and seek a detailed letter requesting accommodation.  Public Health has provided information for the following exemptions from obtaining a vaccination.  These exemptions will need to be well documented by your doctor.  The current exemptions are limited to vaccine-related side effects as follows:
    • a history of a severe allergic reaction (e.g. anaphylaxis) after previous administration of a COVID-19 vaccine using a similar platform (mRNA or viral) vector
    • an allergy to any component of the specific COVID-19 vaccine or its container [polyethylene glycol (PEG) for Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines; tromethamine (trometamol or Tris) for Moderna COVID-19 vaccine; polysorbate  
    • COVID-19 vaccines)]
    • a history of major venous and/or arterial thrombosis with thrombocytopenia following vaccination with AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
    • a history of capillary leak syndrome (CLS) following vaccination with AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. 

Additionally, as a precaution, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that people who experienced myocarditis and/or pericarditis after the first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) should wait to get their second dose of mRNA vaccine until more information is available.

  • Employers, service providers, or landlords might wonder whether they can require their employees, service recipients, or tenants to receive the vaccination. Examples of service providers include retail stores, restaurants, schools, and universities.  Employers such as the ones mentioned here are permitted to require people to receive a vaccination for work safety purposes.
  • While a general requirement related to health and safety and the spread of COVID-19, such as getting a vaccination, is not prohibited by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act (the Act), employers, service providers, and landlords will need to consider whether they have human rights obligations to some individuals.  The Public Health officials have provided a list of medical exemptions for those people who may not be able to be vaccinated.  Any other medical conditions that may require an exemption would have to be well documented by your family doctor.  Obtaining a short note from a family doctor indicating you are exempt from being vaccinated is not sufficient proof.  No one should be stopped from attending any “essential services”, even if they are not vaccinated.
  • Employers, service providers, and landlords may also have to balance accommodation obligations with their other legal obligations to co-workers, and other tenants and service recipients.  In cases where the health and safety of the other employees are at risk due to situations where close contact must happen, there may not always be an accommodation that is available.
  • Examples of ways to reduce risk in a workplace and accommodate individuals who cannot be vaccinated are accomplished through following directions offered by Public Health, such as frequent cleaning and disinfection, social distancing, working from home, and wearing non-medical masks. 

Duty to accommodate

  • If employers, service providers, and landlords are considering requiring vaccinations, they also need to consider that some people are not able to be vaccinated because of a disability, such as allergic reactions to vaccinations or immunosuppression.  The employer will have a duty to accommodate those people to the point of undue hardship. They will also need to balance their accommodation obligations with other legal obligations. For example, will accommodating one employee place others at real risk, especially those vulnerable to COVID-19 (such as seniors or individuals with certain disabilities).
  • Some people may not want to be vaccinated because they do not believe in vaccines as a religious practice.  However, not all beliefs are protected under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. Only religious beliefs that are sincerely held and connected to a faith must be accommodated in the areas protected under the Act.  As with accommodation of disabilities, employers, service providers, and landlords may also have to consider other legal obligations to all their employees, service recipients, and tenants.

Can I make a human rights complaint about vaccines?

  • The Commission may accept a complaint when someone has a disability or religious belief that they allege was not accommodated by their employer, service provider, or landlord.
  • Early in the complaint process, a person making a human rights complaint on the ground of mental disability or physical disability will need to provide medical information to confirm they have a disability that prevents them from being vaccinated.
  • Someone who wants to make a complaint on the ground of religious beliefs will need to provide information to show it is a facet of their belief that they cannot receive vaccinations and that belief is sincerely held and connected to their faith.

Some other considerations concerning vaccines and the workplace

  • If a person feels their workplace is unsafe and they refuse to go to work unless everyone is vaccinated, then this is an Occupational Health and Safety issue and they should contact Occupational Health and Safety to find out what steps need to be taken to address their concerns.  For this type of scenario, Occupational Health and Safety has a process that should be followed.
  • If someone is denied work because they have not been vaccinated, then they should check with the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.  The employer would need to demonstrate the requirement for vaccination is valid based on the characteristics of the workplace.  Some of these may include close contact in the workplace, working with vulnerable populations, and if they can show it is a reasonable measure to implement for the protection of the employees and clientele.  
  • In certain circumstances, there may be a cross-over between human rights, labour, and occupational health and safety.  It will depend on whether a person is terminated, denied work, or requires an accommodation to follow the workplace rules. 

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