By Sean Marzinzik.
As we approach the end of a tumultuous year, many Canadians have been eagerly watching the news regarding the development, approval and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, which represents the largest inoculation campaign in Canada’s history. Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, has commented that if plans go well, British Columbians could experience a “normal” summer in 2021. This 6 to 7 month timeline informs a question we have received repeatedly during the pandemic, and suspect people will continue to ask as more of us become eligible to receive the vaccine:
Can my employer require me to wear a mask while at work? What if I have been vaccinated?
The short answer is yes, employers can require their workers to wear masks under certain circumstances.
Employers are required by law to ensure the health and safety of workers at their workplace and are currently required to implement control measures to prevent worker exposure to COVID-19. If other controls (such as staying 2 metres apart or using barriers) are not possible or cannot be consistently applied, employers are expected to require workers whose duties bring them into close proximity to other workers or members of the public to wear masks. Also, employers are required to ensure that appropriate masks are used and that they are worn properly. In BC, most of the public is also required to wear masks in many indoor settings as a result of an order issued by the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General on November 24, 2020.
These measures are unlikely to change over the short to medium term, even as vaccines become more widely available. While vaccination appears to prevent one from getting sick enough to develop symptoms, studies have not yet considered whether vaccination prevents one from carrying the virus and spreading it to others. This means masks will remain an important tool until enough people have been vaccinated to reach community immunity and COVID-19 is no longer able to spread through the population.
If you have any concerns about unsafe work related to COVID-19, you are expected to raise these concerns with your employer to resolve the issues. If the matter is not resolved, you and your employer must contact WorkSafeBC.
Have questions about a workplace safety issue? Contact us!