Unvaccinated New Brunswicker says he’s running out of options with career on the line

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 vaccination policies in the workplace kicking in'
COVID-19 vaccination policies in the workplace kicking in
Mandatory workplace vaccination policies are set to kick in for many workers, leaving little option for some still unvaccinated New Brunswickers. Travis Fortnum reports – Oct 6, 2021

Dan Hill is not vaccinated against COVID-19 — but don’t call him anti-vax.

“I’m not saying I’m never going to be vaccinated. I’m not in that group,” he says.

“Right now, I’m not ready yet.”

Hill has Tourette syndrome and says he’s had adverse reactions to some prescription medications in the past.

It’s because of that fact he’s found himself among the 19.1 per cent of New Brunswick’s population yet to get their shots.

“Things that I put in my body seem to not work and they have bad side effects for me,” says Hill.

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He’s been out of work for about a year now, having stepped away at the height of the pandemic when his tics made wearing a mask in the office all day too difficult.

“I took a leave thinking this would only go a little while, but now I’m realizing I’m going to have to go back to work,” he says.

Hill was all set for a job interview in child care before New Brunswick announced that employees in that field and a swath of others would need to be vaccinated by Nov. 19.

He says he has not heard from the prospective employer since the province made its announcement Tuesday, but assumes his eligibility for the position will be jeopardized by his vaccination status.

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And now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced similar measures Canada-wide, putting more people in Hill’s shoes.

Both mandates have wiggle room for those deemed exempt from vaccination but Hill says that while his doctor is aware of his vaccination status, the two have not discussed whether he may be deemed exempt.

So what options are left for someone like Hill?

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Employment lawyer Tanya Walker says with or without the OK from his doctor, he’d need to be prepared to provide extensive proof if he were going to fight the rules.

“If you say that an employer is prohibited from requiring you to be vaccinated based on a disability, when you come to the court or any adjudicator, you need proof,” she says.

“You would need to demonstrate that there is a disability that you have and the best way is if you have medical documentation and then the burden of proof is on the employer.”

Click to play video: 'Work: What’s Next? Know your rights.'
Work: What’s Next? Know your rights.

Walker says the same applies to those who may wish to challenge vaccination mandates on religious grounds, using the example of Catholicism.

“If it was my client I would say we need a priest to provide an affidavit saying you’re at church every week, you volunteer in the church, you follow that religion religiously.”

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She says failing to provide adequate proof could land you right back where you started – asked to get vaccinated before clocking in.

Employment lawyer Tanya Walker says the case for vaccine exemption is a hard one to make.
Employment lawyer Tanya Walker says the case for vaccine exemption is a hard one to make. Courtesy: Walker Law

Even if one is able to prove their exemption, Walker says the fight may entirely be in vain.

“Even if it is religious or because of a disability, the court or a tribunal can go a second step further and say, ‘Is this justified?’” she says.

“In order to protect the greater good, is this a justified violation? And I would suspect that the answer would be yes.

“We’re still in a pandemic, we’re going on two years of a pandemic — there aren’t many solutions out there.”

Hill says he’s not sure he’s willing to fight the mandate.

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He says he’ll talk to his doctor about whether or not he qualifies for an exemption and, if he doesn’t, choose between living on unemployment or taking the chance and getting vaccinated.

The deadline for federal public servants to be vaccinated is Oct. 29, while the deadline is Nov. 19 in New Brunswick.

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