By National Post Staff

Jobless Canadians who refuse to get vaccinated for COVID-19 could be shut out of unemployment benefits, warns Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough.

Speaking to Canadian Press, Qualtrough said as long as there’s a public health emergency, unvaccinated workers who lose hours or their job may not be eligible for employment insurance benefits.

Liberals tacked on the condition to a number of benefit payments, the news outlet reports, although those with a medical exemption are excluded.

The policy is intended to keep workplaces open and free of COVID outbreaks, and encourage vaccine uptake, Qualtrough said.

“As long as the collective public health of Canadians is jeopardized, and our economy is thereby threatened, we’re going to have to keep public health policy top of mind in our employment and labor and economic decision making,” she noted.

“And I don’t know how long that will be.”

Employment and Social Development Canada has issued a notice to employers enforcing vaccine mandates to help them fill out records of employment, a document needed to apply for EI benefits.

The department said if an employee doesn’t report to work or is suspended or terminated for refusing to comply with a vaccine mandate, the employer should indicate that they quit, took a leave of absence or were dismissed – potentially disqualifying them from collecting EI.

The notice also lays out multiple factors that could be considered, including whether the vaccine policy was clearly communicated, if it was reasonable within the workplace context and any potential exemptions from the vaccine policy.

In November, the federal government expanded the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit to provide temporary support to workers if their workplace has been affected by capacity-limiting restriction of 50 per cent or more during the pandemic.

Eligible workers may receive $270 after taxes for each one-week period leading up to Feb. 12 if they have lost 50 per cent or more of their income as a result of the capacity limits.

The Trudeau Liberals made stipulations in the federal pandemic aid policy in the fall to encourage participation in the labour force, explained Qualtrough.

“We knew we had to make sure that if something like Omicron happened, that we still needed a tool to help Canadians who either would lose their jobs or would face reduced hours,” she said.

“But we knew the economy in September of 2021 looked very different than it did in September of 2020. So we couldn’t just continue with broad measures that maybe would disincentivize work or wouldn’t encourage maximum labor force participation.”

Canada’s unemployment rate fell to 6.0% in November, 0.3 percentage points shy of data from February 2020, just before the pandemic hit, Statistics Canada estimates. The report found that 19.3 million people in the country were employed, the highest ever recorded and 183,000 more than pre-pandemic levels.

This report by National Post on December 31, 2021.