COVID-19 vaccines and workplace health and safety
Learn how COVID-19 vaccines help protect you and make your workplace safer.
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Vaccination reduces the chance that you will get sick or infected if you are exposed to covid 19. Workplace control measures reduce the chance of being exposed to the virus; covid 19 vaccines do not replace these measures.
To help prevent the spread of covid 19, it is important to keep following public health measures.
As much as possible:
- eliminate or limit the number of in-person interactions by:
- working from home
- meeting virtually
- take steps to reduce the risk associated with any necessary interactions by:
- wearing masks
- keeping physical distance
- limiting time spent in poorly-ventilated spaces or avoiding them if you can
This guidance is written to help you understand how covid 19 vaccines may help to protect you and others at work. The information provided is general in nature and may not be appropriate for all workplace circumstances. Each workplace will have different health and safety measures that are right for that workplace.
To work safely, take steps to learn about and follow:
- the latest public health guidance
- your workplace’s covid 19 safety plan
- current laws, regulations and by-laws
How COVID-19 vaccines protect people
Vaccination (also known as immunization) increases a person’s ability to fight infection if they are exposed to a specific virus. The vaccine activates the body’s natural immune response and makes it more ready to fight the virus.
The covid 19 vaccines approved for use in Canada have been shown to work well to protect those who receive them.
After being vaccinated you are much less likely to get sick if you are exposed to covid 19. However, you could still:
- get infected
- spread the virus to others
This is because no vaccine works 100% of the time, and we are still learning:
- how well the covid 19 vaccines may work against new variants
- how long protection will last after covid 19 vaccination or infection
It is important to keep following public health and other workplace control measures even after you have been vaccinated.
Vaccination and COVID-19 workplace control measures
Workplace control measures are actions that employers take to help prevent workers from being exposed to a hazard. Vaccines are a good complement to workplace controls, but cannot replace them. They have different purposes:
- Workplace controls help prevent workers from being exposed.
- Vaccines help protect you from getting sick or infected if you are exposed.
The most effective way to limit exposure to covid 19 is to avoid interactions between people. All workers who can work from home should do so. This is an important way to help protect these workers as well as those who have to go into the workplace.
Even as more people in Ontario are vaccinated, covid 19 is still a hazard that may come into the workplace through infected workers or customers.
There are a variety of control measures to help reduce the chance that workers who must be in the workplace may be exposed to covid 19:
- screening helps to keep people who may be infectious out of the workplace
- good ventilation and wearing masks can help reduce the amount of virus in an indoor space
- maintaining physical distance reduces the chance of being exposed to respiratory droplets of all sizes
- personal protective equipment (PPE) can help protect the wearer from exposure to the virus and may be required when other control measures cannot be consistently maintained
Employers should assess the risks of exposure to covid 19 in their workplace and identify appropriate control measures. No single action or control measure is perfect in terms of controlling covid 19 risks.
Employers need to continue to take steps to protect workers from covid 19 no matter how many of their workers are vaccinated.
Screening after vaccination
Screening is an important control measure in all workplaces. Vaccinated workers must continue to be screened and follow the directions on what actions to take.
Follow Ministry of Health guidance on screening after vaccination.
There are several common side-effects of vaccination that are the same as symptoms of covid 19. In the 48 hours following your vaccination you may be permitted to enter your workplace if you only have the following mild symptoms which began after you received your vaccination:
- mild headache
- muscle ache/joint pain
If you are allowed to enter your workplace, you will have to wear a surgical or procedure mask for your entire shift, even if this is not something you normally have to do at your workplace.
Workplace vaccination supports and policies
The goal of Ontario’s covid 19 vaccination plan is for everyone in Ontario to be able to get a covid 19 vaccination if they want one.
Workers who are considered employees under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) have the right to take job-protected infectious disease emergency leave if they need to take time off work to get vaccinated or because of side effects after vaccination.
An employer cannot penalize an employee in any way for taking or planning on taking an infectious disease emergency leave.
The OHSA and the ESA do not directly address vaccination or the enforcement of employer vaccination policies for workers. There may be other statutes and considerations that apply to a workplace vaccination policy. Getting legal advice before developing or implementing a vaccination policy can help employers understand the implications. This might include advice on topics such as:
- human rights and accessibility
- labour and employment law
- health care consent
- occupational health and safety
There are many ways employers can encourage and promote the vaccine to their workers. If you are an employer and are considering whether to develop a policy related to vaccination, be clear on the outcomes you intend to achieve.
This resource does not replace or modify the OHSA, the ESA or their respective regulations, and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development inspectors and officers apply the law based on the facts in the workplace.