The Government of Alberta introduced Bill 71, Employment Standards (COVID-19 Vaccination Leave) Amendment Act on April 21. The bill amends the Employment Standards Code (ESC) to provide Alberta employees with up to three consecutive hours of paid, job-protected leave to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. The bill received royal assent and took effect immediately. Notably, the ESC applies to approximately 90% of employers in Alberta. In this update, we break down the key features of the amendments.
COVID-19 vaccination leave
The key features of the COVID-19 vaccination leave are as follows:
- Employees are entitled to the leave regardless of how long they have been employed.
- The length of the leave is up to three consecutive hours. The leave may be extended if, in the employer’s opinion, the circumstances warrant a longer period.
- Employers may request that employees provide the employer reasonably sufficient proof that the employee is entitled to a leave.
- Employees are not required to provide the employer with a medical certificate, record of immunization, or disclose any underlying medical conditions.
- Employers must ensure an employee does not lose any earnings or other benefits as a result of taking the leave.
- Before taking a leave, the employee must give the employer as much notice as practicable.
As COVID-19 vaccines increase in availability, employers can expect that vaccination appointments may conflict with employees’ working hours. As a result of Bill 71, employees are entitled to a paid, job-protected leave to attend COVID-19 vaccination appointments. The Government of Alberta clarified that the leave is for each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, meaning employees will be entitled to additional paid leaves for their second doses of vaccines, as well as potential future booster doses. No employer may terminate or lay off an employee who is on this leave.
Employers who have introduced policies that address vaccinations, or are contemplating such policies, should ensure the policy provisions do not conflict with the minimum standards mandated by Bill 71. For example, employers cannot require an employee to schedule vaccination appointments on days off, to apply vacation time towards vaccination appointments, or to provide proof of vaccination by medical certificates or immunization records. A practical solution to requesting for proof of entitlement to the leave would be proof of the vaccination appointment.
While Bill 71 requires employees to provide as much notice as practicable to employers before taking a leave, the length of notice will certainly vary, as employees’ vaccination appointments can be affected by external factors such as waitlists and supply changes.
Lastly, as a part of an employer’s record-keeping obligations under the ESC, copies of documentation relating to COVID-19 vaccination leaves must be retained for at least three years.