COVID-19 vaccine mandates and proof of vaccination
- In 2021-2022, the Government of Alberta and some other organizations and businesses implemented mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policies that affected service recipients and employees.
- Employers, service providers, or landlords have the
duty to accommodate a person with a disability or another relevant
protected ground, such as religious beliefs, that supports that the person cannot be vaccinated.
- A business may use other methods of accommodating a person who is not vaccinated. For instance, rather than permitting them to physically enter a store, offering curbside pickup would also meet a business’s human rights responsibilities.
- Under Alberta's human rights legislation, the Commission has no jurisdiction to address claims that mandatory vaccine policies violated rights on the basis of personal opinion or political beliefs. The Commission also cannot address claims of rights violations under the Charter or other legislation, codes or acts.
- 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 for COVID-19. A person making a complaint about vaccine policies on the ground of religious belief will need to demonstrate that they have a sincerely held belief connected to their faith.
Topics covered are:
The Alberta Human Rights Commission has received a high volume of requests for information about public health requirements related to vaccination and masking requirements. This statement is intended to clarify when and how the
Alberta Human Rights Act may apply to these public health measures.
This statement is not intended as legal advice, nor is it a statement about how a Tribunal may determine any particular complaint. Rather, it is intended to provide a basic understanding of how public health requirements relate to human rights, and the possible ways the
may affect individuals’ rights.
Contact a lawyer
for legal advice.
Human rights legislation is designed to prevent discrimination on certain grounds, such as disability and religious beliefs. However, the implementation of public health measures during a global pandemic was a novel event, and the application and interpretation of human rights law is evolving.Government of Alberta public health protocols in 2021 and 2022
In 2021-2022, the Government of Alberta implemented a policy that permitted certain businesses to ask customers for proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test, or a valid medical exemption. Some municipalities may also have had their own vaccination-related policies for a time and some businesses and organizations implemented their own mandatory vaccine policies for employees and service users.
Alberta Human Rights Act protects people in Alberta against discrimination based on a list of protected grounds, such as disability and religious belief, in certain areas, including employment, goods and services, and tenancy.
Service providers, employers, and landlords have a duty to accommodate people who have a disability-based medical exemption or religious belief prohibiting them from being vaccinated for COVID-19. The
Act does not protect a person's personal preference not to get vaccinated.
The duty to accommodate individuals who cannot be vaccinated for COVID-19 only arises when it is connected to a protected ground, for instance, where there is a valid medical exemption because of a disability, or a religious belief that is sincerely held and connected to a faith.
Vaccination policies and the Duty to Accommodate
For the period that vaccine policies were in place at certain businesses and services, people were required to show that they were vaccinated before they could enter. This was permissible under the
Alberta Human Rights Act
, as long as those who had a valid exemption were reasonably accommodated.
For example, businesses did not necessarily have to accommodate people who could not be vaccinated because of a protected ground by permitting them to enter their establishments. Other methods of accommodation such as curbside pickup or delivery would also meet a business’s human rights responsibilities.
Employers who implemented a vaccine policy were also required to accommodate employees who could not be vaccinated because of a disability or other protected ground, unless they could show that accommodating those employees created an undue hardship. Offering alternatives such as allowing employees to work remotely or accepting regular negative tests for COVID-19 might be reasonable accommodations.
In all cases, service recipients and employees were required to establish a valid disability or other human rights-related reason that they could not comply with the vaccine policy. During a public health crisis such as a pandemic, the rights of those who are unvaccinated, due to a disability or other protected ground, must be balanced with the health and safety of others. Offering accommodations such as online shopping or working remotely are ways that could satisfy that balance.
The Commission received numerous inquiries and complaints from individuals who believe vaccine policies and other public health requirements violated their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, other legislation and codes, and/or international human rights covenants. However, the
only addresses discrimination in
(including employment, goods and services, and tenancy) and on certain grounds (such as disability and religious beliefs). The Commission cannot address claims of rights violations under the Charter or on the grounds of, for example, personal opinion or political beliefs, or based on concerns about the safety or efficacy of vaccines.
In certain limited circumstances, employers or service providers might decide to require medical testing, such as taking a temperature or requiring employees or service users to regularly test for COVID-19. Medical testing must be reasonably necessary to confirm that employees or service recipients are fit to work or receive services, or whether they require accommodation.
Information about pre-existing or other disabilities should be excluded from any testing results. A positive COVID-19 test result must also not lead to automatic negative consequences, such as employee discipline or termination, complete denial of service, or eviction from housing. Employers, service providers, and landlords have a duty to accommodate people with COVID-19. Employers are required to accommodate the absence from work of individuals with COVID-19 and, where possible, service providers must consider alternate ways to provide their services, such as offering delivery.
During the time that vaccine policies were in place, businesses may have requested private vaccine and/or medical information from employees or service recipients. Questions about the collection and retention of information can be directed to the
Office of the Information and Privacy Commission
Making a human rights complaint about vaccines
The Commission may accept a complaint when someone has a disability or religious belief, or other
protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act, and they allege that there was discrimination in employment, services, or tenancy.
People making human rights complaints 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 for COVID-19. Additional information about providing medical information is available:
People who wish to
make a complaint
on the ground of religious beliefs will need to demonstrate how their belief that they cannot be vaccinated is sincerely held and connected to their faith.
The Commission cannot accept complaints of rights violations under the Charter or any other legislation, on the basis of personal opinion or political beliefs, or any other basis not covered under the
Alberta Human Rights Act at the time of any incident of discrimination.
Next steps after a complaint is accepted
The party that the complaint is against (the Respondent) will have an opportunity to provide a
response to an accepted complaint. They may provide information about what accommodations were offered and available. In some cases, they may also be able to provide information explaining why they could not accommodate employees, service recipients, or tenants who were unable to be vaccinated, including why it was an undue hardship to do so. It is important to note that hardships, such as concerns about safety, must be real and tangible, not just perceived.
Contacting the Commission
The Commission recognizes that the current environment can be frustrating, confusing, and create high emotions for people. However, the Commission expects all persons seeking information and services to treat staff with respect. We reserve the right to terminate any communication that does not meet these expectations.
Find more information:
Disclaimer: This information does not constitute legal advice. It is provided only for information purposes and does not suggest what, if any, decision might be made by a Human Rights Tribunal in any specific complaint.
Revised: December 15, 2022