Saskatchewan employers now have statutory protection regarding the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions and regulations at the workplace in accordance with public health recommendations. The Saskatchewan Employment Amendment Act, 2021 confirms that employers who enacted mandatory vaccination policies were within their legal rights to do so.
Specifically, this legislation added section 9-10.01 to The Saskatchewan Employment Act, which prevents employees from lodging suit against an employer for implementing COVID-19 measures. This addition follows the implementation of The Employers’ COVID-19 Emergency Regulations in October 2021, which empowered employers to require their workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and to provide proof of vaccination.
The amended legislation provides that no action or proceeding can be brought against a private or public sector employer with respect to any act or omission of the employer. if the employer acted or made a good faith effort to act in accordance with the COVID-19 regulations. Good faith effort is defined to include an honest effort, whether or not that effort is reasonable.
The rights of employers to institute mandatory vaccination policies and other good-faith COVID-19 measures have been a topic of recent labour and employment litigation across the country. However, the addition of statutory protection against liability to The Saskatchewan Employment Act is the first of its kind.
In other provinces, these matters have moved forward to trial or arbitration. For instance, in the recent decision of Parmar v Tribe Management Inc., 2022 BCSC 1675, the BC Supreme Court held that an employer was within its rights to place an employee on an indefinite unpaid leave of absence when she refused to comply with the vaccination policy. The employee had refused to provide proof of vaccination to her employer. The employer placed her on leave and she later resigned and commenced litigation alleging constructive dismissal.
In Parmar, the BC Supreme Court recognized that the pandemic was an extraordinary event that justified an extraordinary response. Accordingly, the employer’s decision to place the employee on an indefinite unpaid leave of absence was reasonable in the circumstances and the employee was not owed damages for constructive dismissal.
The new Saskatchewan legislation prevents actions similar to Parmar full-stop. The amendments do not only prevent employees from starting new claims against employers, but apply regardless of whether the action or proceeding arose prior to the amendments coming into force. Any actions previously commenced are deem to have been dismissed without costs.
Saskatchewan employers can rest easier knowing they are protected from litigation stemming from the implementation of COVID-19 measures in the workplace during the pandemic.
If you have any questions, please reach out to a member of Miller Thomson’s Labour & Employment group.