The COVID-19 pandemic may no longer be front of mind for many of us (we’re now focused on unidentified flying objects getting shot down over our territory), but the courts continue to churn through the multitude of claims filed as a result of vaccine mandates.
At least one person has found out that defying his employer’s vaccine mandate has cost him not only his job but the opportunity to receive E.I. benefits, as well. It’s the employment version of “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”
E.I. Benefits - Disqualification
Generally speaking, applicants for E.I. benefits will be disqualified if they have quit their employment or have been terminated as a result of their misconduct.
Does Refusing a Vaccination Amount to Misconduct?
Anthony Cecchetto had been employed by Lakeridge Health – operator of several Ontario hospitals – since 2017. In 2021, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lakeridge implemented policies requiring its employees to provide proof of vaccination (or a valid medical reason for not doing so and, in that event, to submit to antigen testing).
Cecchetto did not get vaccinated or provide antigen test results and so he was put on unpaid leave and then dismissed from his employment a month later. He applied for Employment Insurance benefits, but the Canada Employment Insurance Commission denied his application, finding that he had lost his job due to “misconduct” (failing to follow his employer’s policies).
Let The Appeals Begin
Cecchetto initiated several levels of appeal of the E.I. decision, ultimately landing in Canada’s Federal Court. His arguments before the Court included that…
He also said to the Court that he had tried to comply with all of his employer’s rules, but his “questions about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and the antigen tests” were never satisfactorily answered. He also stated that he never intended or wanted the matter to get to the stage where he would be fired from his job, and he could not understand how it all got this far.
Notably, Cecchetto also objected to complying with the Federal Court’s own masking policy. As a result, efforts were made to accommodate him, including making “significant efforts under extreme time pressure to provide a room equipped with the necessary computer and camera facilities, in order to permit [him] to participate in this hearing via Zoom”.
Before the Federal Court, Cecchetto submitted that none of the previous adjudicators who had dealt with his application had addressed his two key questions…
In response to the first question, the Court embraced a lower-level decision to the effect that Cecchetto had been dismissed from his employment because he knowingly failed to follow vaccine policies which Lakeridge was legally obligated to implement. This constituted “misconduct” as that term is understood and defined by the binding case-law regarding eligibility for E.I. benefits.
Cecchetto had not put forward any legal or factual arguments to persuade the Court that the lower-level decision was unreasonable, and there was no reason to overturn the decision denying him E.I. benefits. Unfortunately for Cecchetto, the Court also determined that it wasn’t in a position to answer his second question. The Court stated…
“[I]t is likely that the Applicant will find this result frustrating, because my reasons do not deal with the fundamental legal, ethical, and factual questions he is raising. That is because many of these questions are simply beyond the scope of this case. It is not unreasonable for a decision-maker to fail to address legal arguments that fall outside the scope of its legal mandate.”
For Mr. Cecchetto, his legal odyssey has produced a disappointing outcome. For the millions of Canadians who complied with their employers’ lawful vaccination policies, this was the right outcome.
This item is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. Informed legal advice should always be obtained about your specific circumstances.