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Payouts coming for hundreds of Alberta health workers impacted by COVID-19 vaccine rules

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Hundreds of Alberta health-care workers unvaccinated against COVID-19 are being financially compensated after filing grievances with their union.

This week, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Alberta Precision Laboratories employees are set to be paid out, with some receiving as much as $5,000 for their pandemic labour interruption.

AHS said of the 260 employees who filed grievances with HSAA, 95 have been determined eligible by an arbitrator to receive a payment.

A “few dozen” employees who were allowed to come into work but had to pay for regular COVID-19 tests will have certain receipts reimbursed.

This comes after a recent labour relations board arbitration where the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) and AHS agreed to follow the recommendations.

A mediator was brought in to rule on the dispute. The arbitrator's binding recommendations will see AHS pay those who were forced into workplace leaves $5,000 each.

The employees who were allowed to come into work but who had to pay for regular COVID-19 tests will receive full compensation for all documented test expenses.

And those who were forced to work from home will be "made whole," according to the ruling.

That amount is yet to be determined but is expected to widely vary.

More payouts likely

In 2021 and 2022, 1,650 full- and part-time AHS staff who were not fully immunized were put on unpaid leave.

Some were later allowed to work but forced to pay for their own testing, which was required to enter the job site.

This arbitration only concerns those under the HSAA banner, though bargaining is ongoing with others.

United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) says an arbitrator assigned through a Labour Relations Board is on its case.

"There are 82 grievances where UNA is seeking lost wages on behalf of members who provided sufficient information to support accommodation in the workplace or where the employees worked exclusively from home with no reasonable expectation of being recalled to in-person duties," a statement reads.

"UNA is also seeking compensation for 46 employees for time and expenses related to the employer's testing policy. There are also two other members who provided information they could not meet the requirements of the testing regime and we are seeking lost wages on their behalf."

Experts expect those employees -- and workers belonging to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees -- to also receive payments through mediation.

Unclear precedence

While many say they weren't vaccinated for medical and religious reasons, it's widely believed the majority didn't receive shots under the guise of personal freedom.

A professor at the University of Calgary's law faculty says that makes the mediator's job somewhat difficult.

"If you genuinely can't be vaccinated for medical reasons -- which is a very small number of people -- then that's very different than people who chose to object to the vaccination under personal choice," Lorian Hardcastle told CTV News.

"So I think some in the public are going to be very frustrated when they learn that some people are being compensated for (the latter)."

Hardcastle points to other cases surrounding mandatory vaccination across the country that are being resolved independently.

"(AHS) was dealing with a large number of people and likely just wanted this to be resolved," she said.

"But I think it would be ideal to have decisions from the courts on those issues, so then those precedents are binding and we have more certainty.

"Because if there were another pandemic tomorrow, and employers wanted to put in vaccination policies, they would struggle to do so and to know what happens with those policies in labour arbitration."

AHS responds

CTV News reached out to both AHS and the health minister for comment on this story.

AHS provided the following statement:

“AHS will be implementing the binding recommendations regarding payment to eligible employees who were denied requested medical and accommodation leaves of absence and placed on an unpaid leave of absence due to non-compliance with the policy,” the statement reads.

“AHS is satisfied that the binding recommendations balance the need to address outstanding grievances while recognizing the right of the employer to implement such a policy.”

Neither the health minister nor her office responded by the reporter's deadline.

HSAA would also not comment further. 

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