Home Featured Federal Court upholds denial of EI benefits to unvaccinated B.C. public sector worker who lost job to misconduct

Federal Court upholds denial of EI benefits to unvaccinated B.C. public sector worker who lost job to misconduct

by HR Law Canada

The Federal Court has weighed in on another case of a worker who was denied Employment Insurance (EI) benefits after losing their job to misconduct for refusing to comply with an employer’s COVID-19 vaccination policy. Spoiler alert: The ruling didn’t go in the worker’s favour.

The worker, Z.B., worked in the British Columbia Public Service (BCPS) for more than 20 years, most recently as a senior manager. Despite his “unblemished work record with exemplary performance reviews,” Z.B. was terminated after failing to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, as required by his employer’s policy effective November 2021.

Upon termination, Z.B. applied for EI benefits, which were denied by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission on grounds of misconduct and unavailability for work. The Social Security Tribunal’s General Division (SST-GD) upheld this decision, finding Z.B.’s refusal to comply with the vaccination policy constituted misconduct. The SST Appeal Division (SST-AD) subsequently denied him leave to appeal the SST-GD’s decisions.

Z.B., representing himself, sought judicial review of the SST-AD’s refusal, arguing procedural fairness and challenging the reasonableness of the vaccination policy. The Federal Court dismissed the application, stating, “The SST-AD reasonably found that, in determining whether the applicant committed misconduct under the Act, it cannot assess the reasonableness of the employer’s vaccination policy that led to his dismissal.”

Legal analysis

The court emphasized that the SST-AD’s role was to determine whether Z.B.’s non-compliance with the vaccination policy constituted misconduct under the Employment Insurance Act (EIA). The court ruled that Z.B.’s actions, knowing the consequences of non-compliance, fit the definition of misconduct, thereby disqualifying him from EI benefits.

The court referenced multiple precedents, including Cecchetto v. Canada and Sullivan v. Canada, which supported the SST-AD’s decision. In these cases, employees who deliberately breached explicit employer policies were found to have committed misconduct, irrespective of their views on the policies’ reasonableness.

The court further clarified that the SST’s mandate does not include evaluating the legality of employment policies but rather the adherence to employment obligations and the foreseeability of dismissal due to non-compliance.

Lessons from this ruling

This ruling reinforces the authority of employers to enforce vaccination policies and deny EI benefits for non-compliance. For HR professionals and labour and employment lawyers, the case underscores several critical lessons:

  1. Clear Policy Communication: Employers must ensure that vaccination policies and their consequences are clearly communicated to all employees. The BCPS policy was explicit about the requirements and repercussions of non-compliance.
  2. Documenting Compliance and Misconduct: Maintaining thorough records of employee communications and decisions related to policy compliance is essential. This documentation played a crucial role in upholding the misconduct finding against Boskovic.
  3. Procedural Fairness: While employers can enforce vaccination policies, they must also provide a fair process for exemption requests and clearly document the grounds for any denials. Z.B.’s exemption request was considered but ultimately denied based on policy criteria.

For more information, see Boskovic v. Canada (Attorney General), 2024 FC 841 (CanLII).

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