The health and safety of teachers, students, families and the broader community is of the utmost importance, and the Alberta Teachers’ Association continues to monitor the evolving COVID-19 situation. Every effort will be made to keep this information up-to-date, understanding that the situation changes on an ongoing basis. The most current information will be found on the Government of Alberta website at https://www.alberta.ca/coronavirus-info-for-albertans.aspx.
ATA offices remain closed to the public. We are continuing to serve our members, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. If you have questions that are not addressed here, please call the Association at 1-800-232-7208 (Edmonton) or 1-800-332-1280 (Calgary).
See our contact page for a directory to all of our programs and services.
Links to current advisories:
Brief Questions and Answers Concerning Vaccination Mandates for Teachers
Why is the Alberta Teachers’ Association concerning itself with vaccination?
With the province’s recent declaration of a public health emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic has reached a critical juncture. The “delta variant” is spreading rapidly through the population to the point that critical health care infrastructure is under strain. Rates of infection are highest among those who have not been fully vaccinated and in those communities where the uptake of vaccinations in the general population remains comparatively low.
Vaccination provides impressive, although not perfect, protection against infection and, in subsequently infected persons, dramatically reduces both the likelihood of them transmitting the virus and the frequency and severity of resulting illness in the small number of vaccinated individuals who might experience a breakthrough infection.
Schools and teachers have a critical role to play in containing the spread of the disease; not only are schools places where large numbers of individuals, many whom may not be vaccinated or even be currently eligible to be vaccinated (as would be the case for children under 12 years of age,) come into close proximity, schools are also places that both reflect and have the potential to drive community infection. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Association has been advocating for a wide range of measures to be taken to better secure the safety of member teachers, students and other school staff and vaccination is consistent with that objective.
The adoption of vaccination mandates is also consistent with established Association policy.
Has the Association considered all the evidence about the effectiveness of the various vaccines and their legal status, and availability and effectiveness of other drug regimes?
Regrettably, many of the policy responses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including policies supporting vaccination have become politicized and polarized. Understanding that there may be some room for disagreement about very specific questions of the application of current understandings of science to public policy, the Association is relying upon the consensus of credible medical opinion. Individuals with questions about the effectiveness or implications of the vaccine should review material posted on the Alberta Health Services website (albertahealthservices.ca) or the Government of Canada Health Services website.
Can the Alberta Teachers’ Association impose a vaccination requirement on member teachers?
No. The Association does not have the authority to impose a vaccination upon member teachers other than those who it directly employs as staff. A requirement that an individual be vaccinated as a condition of their working at a particular site or in a particular role could be imposed by an employer school board (or the provincial government). The Association is indicating that it will not oppose the reasonable implementation of an appropriate vaccination mandate policy.
Is a vaccination mandate legal?
Yes, if the mandate is reasonable. Field Law, on behalf of the Association, undertook a comprehensive review of labour law as it applies to the potential implementation of a vaccination mandate on teachers by employer school boards. Their analysis aligns with similar work undertaken independently for other labour groups and shared with the Association. Effectively, the courts have consistently confirmed that any rule or policy unilaterally imposed by an employer and not subsequently agreed to by the union, must be consistent with the collective agreement and be reasonable, a standard known as the KVP test after a precedent setting court case. The Association has set out in its public policy statement the conditions required for a policy to meet the test of reasonableness.
Will I be forced to be vaccinated against my will?
No one can be forced to be vaccinated. There can be consequences though for individuals who refuse to be vaccinated or refuse to show proof of vaccination. These may include provisions requiring the individual to undergo periodic testing, potentially on their own time and at their own expense. Alternatively, the individual may be required to work in settings that limit their contact with students and/or other staff. In some cases, the employer may respond by requiring the unvaccinated individual taking a leave from work (potentially without pay). The Association’s position is that such a response by the employer should not be disciplinary in nature, but rather a necessary and reasonable consequence of their being unvaccinated.
What if I have a medical condition that prevents me from being vaccinated?
Employers imposing a vaccine mandate would be required to make accommodation to the point of undue hardship for individuals whose medical condition or disability precludes their being vaccinated. This might include teaching assignments that limit contact with staff and students, a testing requirement paid for by the employer, paid leave, or some other measure. However, a request for a medical accommodation will require appropriate documentation from their attending physician attesting that, on the basis of their examination or ongoing treatment of the individual, vaccination is medically contraindicated. Noting that there are relatively few circumstances that would preclude vaccination on medical grounds, teachers who believe that they may require accommodation should speak to their physician. The Association can assist individuals in working with their employer to ensure that legitimate medical exemptions are properly accommodated.
What if I am opposed to vaccinations or to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on principle?
Under the Alberta Human Rights Code, an employer would be required to accommodate genuine religiously-based refusal to receive vaccination as religious belief is a protected ground. The actual accommodation might include the measures outlined for medical accommodation. However, it is generally the case that a singular belief or personal preference against vaccinations are likely not protected under the Code. Individuals requesting accommodation on religious grounds may be required by the employer to provide supporting documentation from a recognized religious leader outlining the basis for the objection within the context of the faith as well as the employee’s involvement and membership in the faith group.
Will my privacy be protected if the employer introduces a vaccination mandate?
In order to meet privacy law requirements, the collection of vaccination status must be reasonable. Only the minimum amount of information which is necessary to implement and enforce the policy should be collected and whatever information is collected needs to be carefully safeguarded. An appropriate process would entail the employee showing proof of vaccination (or a negative COVID-19 test result) to an agent of the employer, but the employer would not actually retain the vaccination records or test results themselves. Refusing to disclosing their vaccination status would likely be viewed as a breach of the mandatory vaccination policy and non-disciplinary consequences or options outlined above may be considered.
Who should be responsible for checking proof of vaccination and/or negative test results in the school?
School leaders already are burdened with additional responsibilities relating to the continued safe operation of schools during the pandemic, and employers should ensure that every effort is made to minimize the additional administrative duties required to support the vaccination mandate policy. Generally, recording proof of completed vaccination should be a one time requirement for each affected staff member and should not be too onerous—this might reasonably be undertaken by the principal or a designated member of the school leadership team. Board policies providing for the presentation of negative COVID test results on an ongoing basis as an alternative to proof of vaccination will be more difficult to administer—boards should identify alternative approaches to requiring school leaders to receive test results (perhaps requiring that results be scanned and submitted to the attention of a designated individual in central or regional office). In any event, the individual recording information related to the policy must be appropriately briefed on procedures to ensure the privacy of the information received.
Can I criticize my employer if I disagree with their policy concerning vaccination?
It is inevitable that some members will disagree with their employer’s policy concerning vaccination mandates. Some will be opposed to any policy whatsoever, others will be critical if the employer does not act or acts in a way that they regard as being insufficient. It is important for teachers to remember that they have a fiduciary responsibility as employees to be loyal to their employer board and public criticism should generally be avoided. It would be acceptable to express one’s view respectfully using processes established for this purpose. Above all, teachers should avoid bringing personal, social and community conflict around vaccination into the classroom—schools must remain a safe environment conducive to learning.
Will the Association represent me in a dispute with my employer concerning a vaccination mandate policy?
If the employer implements a policy consistent with the criteria set out in the Association’s statement, it is highly unlikely that a general challenge of that policy would be successful. Furthermore, as the Association has considered the legal issues and options in some depth, it has acquitted its duty of fair representation with respect to policies consistent with the mandate. Association staff will be pleased to assist individuals with a legitimate ground for accommodation to ensure their rights are protected, but this will be a matter to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
Do the instructional and assignable time limits in my collective agreement still apply during the pandemic?
Yes! The current situation with the pandemic has not impacted your collective agreement entitlements. Teachers are still limited to a maximum of 907 hours of instruction and 1200 hours of assignable time which includes instruction. Teachers are encouraged to calculate their time upon return to teaching this fall to ensure they remain within the maximum limit prior to June 20, 2022, (2021 08 24)
Given the ongoing COVID pandemic, do I have to work in the classroom if I feel that it is unsafe?
Hazard assessments, a requirement of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation, play a key role in health and safety at the workplace. Hazard assessments must be completed before any work takes place at the school, and should be reviewed at regular intervals, or when something changes the way that the work is done. Typically, hazard assessments are done at the start of every school year. Under the OHS Act, school divisions have the obligation to include teachers (workers) and other workers in the building in conducting hazard assessments. Hazard assessments are specific to the work being done, and therefore some teaching assignments may require additional controls in place due to additional hazards associated with that particular assignment. School divisions (employer), via the principals (supervisors), must communicate known hazards and the controls in place so that everyone working in the school knows how to work safely.
COVID-19 is a workplace hazard. This is undeniable, particularly in the context of conventional congregated schooling. All workplace hazards, including those associated with COVID-19, should be included on the hazard assessment, as well as the measures in place to eliminate or control those hazards. This information needs to be available to all workers in the building. School divisions must eliminate the hazards where possible. If it is not possible to eliminate a hazard, the hazard must be controlled to the lowest level of risk possible by following a hierarchy:
- First choice: Engineering controls to modify the worksite to isolate people from a hazard, like installing partitions to separate workspaces
- Second choice: Administrative controls to change how and when the work is done to control a hazard, like changing schedules to stagger the amount of people in a space at a given time, requiring daily screening, or physical distancing
- Third choice: Personal Protective Equipment provided to workers to wear to protect them while working, like gloves and face masks.
While the controls are considered in a hierarchy, they are also frequently identified as a part of a suite of controls. This means that it is the combination of controls that is required to ensure the hazards are controlled as effectively as possible.
If there are concerns with hazards in the school, the controls put in place and/or their effectiveness, teachers have the obligation to report these concerns to the principal in a timely manner. The school division should have the opportunity to respond to the concerns and make any changes as necessary.
After eliminating hazards where possible and adopting reasonable and practicable hazard controls that are being followed correctly, and the school authority determines that the work is not dangerous and no dangerous condition is present at the work site, the school authority can direct you to work in the classroom in your regular assignment.
The expectation to work in your regular assignment, it is a lawful order of the board and you must comply if it is reasonable. You may, however, lodge a formal protest as provided for in Article 8 of the ATA Code of Professional Conduct. Executive Staff in Teacher Employment Services can assist with the protest.
The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act requires the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, psychological and social well-being of workers. Further, in Part 4, a worker has the right to refuse dangerous work if the worker believes an undue hazard is present at the work site or the work constitutes a danger to health and safety. Please see Right to Refuse Work for more information.
What is the requirement for personal protective equipment (PPE)?
Currently, masking is mandatory for students in grades 4 and up, plus staff and teachers in all grades. School divisions can choose to include additional health and safety measures, like mandating masks for all students, to increase controls for hazards identified in the hazard assessment. (2021 09 16)
I have an illness, either physically or psychologically, and am unfit to be at work. What should I do?
You should access the sick leave entitlements in your collective agreement.
If you have a diagnosed medical condition that places you at risk of injury or illness if you are required to return to the work site, this also must be taken into consideration.
- If there has been no voluntary disclosure of a medical condition with supporting medical documentation outlining the required medical restrictions, and all hazard controls have been implemented and the work site is deemed safe, but you still do not want to return to work, employers may be in a position to terminate employment.
- If you do provide medical documentation outlining your required medical restrictions, the duty to accommodate under the Human Rights Act is triggered, and as such, a conversation would be warranted.
- If you have outstanding issues or need further advice, please contact Barnett House at 1-800-232-7208. (2020 07 23)
Because of COVID-19, I don’t have access to childcare and am unable to teach. What should I do?
The employer has a duty to accommodate for family status, which is a protected ground under the Human Rights Act. If a teacher is in a situation as a result of COVID-19 where they do not have appropriate child care, they may have cause to be accommodated by being granted a leave of absence under their particular collective agreement. (2020 07 17)
As a teacher, will I be required to disinfect high contact areas in my classroom or school? What about student desks?
Your primary role is to teach your students. However, teachers can be asked to disinfect their immediate work area. Regular ongoing wiping down of high-touch surfaces should be done by the school custodian in order to minimize the risk in schools under OHS. Boards are responsible to ensure proper cleaning is being done. (2020 07 29)
If I suspect my colleague has COVID-19, what should I do?
There will be a heightened awareness in schools this fall whenever someone coughs, sneezes or has the sniffles. These symptoms could also be a result of allergies or other medical conditions. Teachers should follow the Code of Professional Conduct and speak with their colleagues about their concerns before speaking with the principal if it is necessary to do so. (2020 07 22)
If a teacher does not follow an order to self-isolate or fully quarantine, could there be a complaint filed for possible unprofessional conduct?
Yes. Section 23 of the Teaching Profession Act speaks to conduct of a member that is detrimental to the best interests of students, the public or the teaching profession. Members should be setting an example and following medical orders which are currently in effect. If a member does not follow a medical order and in turn causes illness in another individual or is perceived to have caused an illness in another individual, a professional conduct committee may find that member guilty of unprofessional conduct. In short, stay home if required to do so. (2021 10 05)
Quarantining or Self-isolating
If a teacher tests positive for COVID-19 are they required to quarantine? Is their sick leave covered and paid?
If a teacher tests positive for COVID, they will remain on sick leave until such time they are healthy and able to return to work. (2021 08 24)
Do I need to self-isolate if I am a close contact?
For the 14 days following close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, you should:
- Monitor for symptoms. If you develop symptoms, isolate and get tested immediately.
- Avoid public places if not fully immunized.
- Avoid contact with vulnerable persons, and non-essential visits to hospitals or continuing care facilities.
- Consider additional precautions such as physical distancing, wearing a mask and washing or sanitizing hands often, if in contact with people who are not fully immunized.
- Check with your employer regarding any work restrictions. (2021 08 24)
What if I have respiratory issues or have otherwise compromised health such as a weakened immune system?
Discuss your situation with your doctor. If you are required to be absent from work due to medical reasons, you should access medical leave. Most collective agreements require a note after three days of absence. (2020 03 13)
I am really worried about catching COVID-19 and transmitting it to my family. Can I take a leave?
Teachers in this situation can access leave but expect that it will likely be an unpaid leave. There may be a potential for other options because of a protected family status situation. If you believe this applies to you, please contact the Teacher Employment Services (TES) program area for support. (2020 10 05)
ATA Business and Events
At its 2021 09 09 24 meeting, Provincial Executive Council reassessed the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta and the most recent directives of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and amended the directives imposed earlier in the month to take into account new restrictions and to provide for potential use of the “Restrictions Exemption Program” (i.e. vaccine passport) as proof of vaccination.
Specifically, the following COVID-19 directives apply immediately to all Association subgroups (locals, convention associations, specialist councils and committees with respect to their meetings, activities and events until they are rescinded by motion of Table Officers Committee:
- Recognizing the potential of subgroup events to bring teachers from multiple cohorts together, the preferred and default option is for subgroup events to be conducted virtually.
- Subgroup activities that might, contrary to the general direction provided, take place, partially or entirely, in congregated settings must comply with all current orders, regulations and directives of the chief medical officer of health, regional medical officers of health, the province, the municipality and/or school authority and/or venue in which they are occurring including, but not limited to, masking, distancing, group size limits and cohorting.
Furthermore, such activities must comply with the following conditions:
- Persons attending in-person must, on each occasion and prior to being admitted to the event, present acceptable proof issued by Alberta Health Services of completed vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to a person or persons designated by the subgroup to confirm such status at the event (this responsibility must not be delegated to venue staff.)
- Acceptable proof of vaccination consists of documentation issued by Alberta Health Services of vaccination status demonstrating that the individual has received two vaccinations (or single Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccination), with 14 days having passed since the last vaccination was administered.
- Acceptable proof of a negative COVID-19 test consists of a report demonstrating a negative result of Health Canada approved rapid antigen, rapid PCR or lab-based PCR test completed within the previous 72 hours of the commencement of the event—the report must clearly state the type of test, time of sample collection, clear indication of a negative result and laboratory or pharmacy that completed the test, if applicable.
- Association employees who are in compliance with an Association staff vaccine mandate are exempted from requirements to provide additional proof of vaccination or negative test result (Note: only Association staff meeting the criteria set out above will be allowed to attend meetings, activities or events).
- Any record collected concerning the vaccination or COVID-19 test status of in-person attendees at the event shall be securely disposed of at the conclusion of the event, however, a list of these attendees and their contact information will be retained as a record of the meeting to inform potential contact tracing for a period of at least 30 days following the conclusion of the event.
- In-person attendance must be voluntary with provision to attend virtually being made for individuals who choose to do so or who cannot provide the required proof of vaccination or negative test status.
Information concerning these provisions shall be communicated to potential attendees well in advance of the event and shall be posted at the entry to the event venue. (2021 09 28)
What about teacher convention association activities?
Teachers’ Conventions in 2022 will be conducted virtually. (2021 10 04)
ATA Checklist—Setting-up and Running Effective Hybrid Meetings
ATA Guide—Setting-up and Running Effective Hybrid Meetings
Mental Health and Coping
These are unprecedented times and can be quite stressful.
If you or members of your family are struggling with anxiety or mental health concerns related to the spread of this virus, supports are available through your Employee Family Assistance Plan accessible for most teachers through Homewood Health. See the ASEBP site for contact information.
The Mental Health Help Line is available 24/7 to provide advice and referrals to community supports near you: 1-877-303-2642.