Home Featured Former Toronto librarian, fired for refusing to comply with vaccine policy, loses appeal for EI benefits at Federal Court

Former Toronto librarian, fired for refusing to comply with vaccine policy, loses appeal for EI benefits at Federal Court

by HR Law Canada

A librarian who was terminated for failing to comply with the Toronto Public Library’s COVID-19 vaccination policy has lost her appeal for employment insurance (EI) benefits at the Federal Court.

H.W. began working for the library in 2019. It imposed a mandatory vaccination policy during the pandemic — but H.W. refused to comply because “based on her own research and scientific knowledge, she did not believe that vaccination mandates were effective,” the court said.

The policy specified that failure to comply by Oct. 30, 2021, could lead to disciplinary actions, including dismissal. When she refused to comply with the policy, she was placed on unpaid leave on Nov. 1, 2021. She was told she would be terminated if she did not comply by Dec. 13, 2021.

That deadline was extended to Jan. 2, 2022, at which point H.W. was let go by the Toronto Public Library.

Following her dismissal, H.W. applied for employment insurance, only to have her claim denied by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission on grounds of misconduct. The denial was upheld even after a request for reconsideration. H.W. appealed the matter to the Social Security Tribunal.

The Tribunal’s General Division sided with the initial decision, labeling her non-compliance as misconduct. They concluded that her behaviour amounted to misconduct because it was wilful, she knew that her conduct was likely to interfere with her ability to carry out her duties, and she was, or at least ought to have been, aware that she could be dismissed.

H.W. then sought leave to appeal the General Division’s decision to the Tribunal’s Appeal Division. The Appeal Division would only grant leave if it found that the General Division had committed a reviewable error in its judgement. However, it concluded that the General Division had made no such error, thereby denying the appeal.

That decision was taken to the Federal Court, which reviewed the Appeal Division’s decision. The court found that the Appeal Division did not err in its decision-making process.

It emphasized that the role of the Appeal Division was not to reassess the appellant’s arguments but to determine if the General Division had made a reviewable error.

“The Appeal Division correctly noted that leave to appeal can be granted only if the claimant has shown that the General Division made a reviewable error and that the appeal stands a reasonable chance of success,” the court said.

Further illustrating the judiciary’s stance, the court referred to similar cases, including Sullivan v Canada (Attorney General), where it was noted that the tribunal was not a platform to challenge employer policies but rather to decide on entitlement to social security benefits.

In the judgment, it was clear that the court felt H.W.’s arguments were already adequately addressed.

“Arguments similar to (H.W.’s) have already been addressed in another decision of this Court by Justice Catherine Kane in Butu v Canada (Attorney General), 2024 FC 321,” the court noted, where it was concluded that the Appeal Division’s role was confined to determining whether the applicant’s appeal stood a reasonable chance of success.

Ultimately, the Court could not find the Appeal Division’s decision to be unreasonable or lacking in justification, transparency, or intelligibility.

The application for judicial review was dismissed without an order as to costs.

For more information, see Wong v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2024 FC 686 (CanLII).

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