British Columbia

Can you be legally fired for being at a vaccine mandate protest? In B.C., it depends

A vaccine mandate protester in B.C. could be legally fired with cause, if their employer finds that their presence at a protest directly harmed the company's business interests, according to an employment lawyer.

Calls to boycott businesses seen to support 'disruptive' protests across Canada growing

An employment lawyer says some B.C. companies could take a stand on the divisive vaccine mandate protests, which may include firing employees who take part in them. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

A vaccine mandate protester in B.C. could be legally fired with cause, if their employer finds that their presence at a protest directly harmed the company's business interests, according to an employment lawyer.

It comes as numerous demonstrations against public health measures disrupted traffic across B.C. last weekend, with some of the protesters arrested for violent behaviour and "unlawful conduct."

The protests have also led to calls for counter action, with one of the trends arising on social media being a boycott of businesses whose vehicles were seen at them.

Chris Drinovz, an employment lawyer and partner at KSW Lawyers, said the negative attention garnered by the protests could lead to firings for employees whose demonstrations harm their employer's reputation.

"As long as you have some sort of a connection … where the activity in question is affecting or impacting the business or its reputation, that's where you can potentially have grounds to discipline the employee," he told CBC News.

Drinovz says that the right to protest is protected under the B.C. Human Rights Code, so an employee might have a case for wrongful dismissal or a human rights complaint if no firm connection is drawn between the employer and the employee's actions.

However, he says if a protester is charged with a hate crime or a more serious crime at a protest, that would constitute grounds for dismissal without the need to pay severance.

"Conduct that's rising to that level of criminality probably wouldn't be protected by the Human Rights Code," he said.

Drinovz says he expects some terminations to arise from the protests, which are a divisive issue that companies would need to stake out a position on.

"I suspect that we probably will see a case or two winding its way through the courts on this issue," he said.

Vancouver police made five arrests on Feb. 5 as thousands took to the streets to protest pandemic mandates and restrictions, and counter-protesters tried to block their movements. (Submitted by Peter Curson)

"I don't think we'll have the same volume of litigation as we saw with the mandatory vaccination [rules] … it'll be very interesting to see how it's handled in the courts or by arbitrators."

Alyn Edwards, a public relations professional and partner at Peak Communicators, said companies should take immediate public action if one of their employees is painting them in a negative light.

"If there's companies linked to supporting those in the protest, they have to bear the brunt of reputational damage," he said. "Social media is instant and it hits hard … what lives on the internet stays on the internet."

Boycott calls grow

The demands to boycott and document businesses seen to support the vaccine mandate protests are growing across the country.

Felix Mann, a Victoria resident, made a Twitter thread cataloguing the businesses whose vehicles he saw at the local protest on Feb. 5.

"I'm not telling the businesses to stop protesting for this or anything," he said. 

"But if they are going to do that, I think people should know that and [decide] whether or not they actually want to support a business which will presumably put time or money into a movement such as this."