Fired for refusing to disclose COVID vax status, Manitoba man sues pharmaceutical giant Bayer

A Manitoba man is suing pharmaceutical giant Bayer, claiming he was fired for refusing to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

The lawsuit alleges the man’s employment was terminated in January “without just cause” and in breach of his employment contract. CBC News is not naming the man because of personal health information.

He had worked for about 18 years at Bayer Inc., a company with divisions including pharmaceuticals and agriculture, operating in Germany, the United States and Canada, including Winnipeg.

He was a program manager and did his work entirely from home, both before and during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to his statement of claim filed April 7 at the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench in Winnipeg.

The lawsuit says his vaccination status for COVID-19 or any other disease was not among the terms of the employment contract. 

Bayer Inc. implemented the vaccination requirement unilaterally and made it effective January of 2022, the claim alleges.

“It was not a term of his employment contract that he had an obligation to disclose any personal health information,” the claim says, adding the man sought an exemption from the policy but was denied.

Since he was working from home, “neither his employment duties nor the employment contract required in-person interaction with other employees of the defendant (Bayer Inc.), its customers or other stakeholders,” the claim says.

Vaccination ‘a pillar of public health’: Bayer

The allegations have not been tested in court and Bayer has not yet filed a statement of defence. 

“Bayer is committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment including reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection for employees,” a company spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

“As a life sciences organization, we believe in the effectiveness of vaccines. Vaccination against COVID-19 is a pillar of public health guidance and key to providing a safe working environment for all our employees and those with whom they come into contact.”

Bayer said it would not comment further on matters related to litigation. The plaintiff’s lawyer also declined comment. 

A Toronto employment lawyer says workers dealing with the impact of vaccination status on their job is among the most common issues employees have faced in recent months. (New Africa/Shutterstock)

Toronto labour and employment lawyer Lior Samfiru, who is not involved with the case, says his firm has represented clients across Canada whose jobs have been affected by their vaccination status.

“I can tell you that that is one of the most common issues that employees have faced over the past six or seven months, which is dealing with their vaccination status and the impact of that status on their job,” he said in an interview.

“A wrongful dismissal means that you are let go without compensation. So if he had been paid proper severance, it would not be a wrongful dismissal,” Samfiru said. 

The lawsuit alleges the employer failed to compensate the man, and seeks an unspecified amount of money in general damages for wrongful termination. 

It also seeks aggravated and punitive damages for the manner in which he was dismissed, such as allegedly not giving him a positive letter of reference and demanding he disclose personal health information without a legitimate reason.

Health treatments demanded: lawsuit

The employer demanded the man “undertake personal health treatments, despite his vaccination status having no rational connection to his employment duties, and terminated his employment when he declined to do so,” the court document says.

It says that as an employee working entirely from home, Bayer’s demand that he disclose personal health information and the subsequent termination of his employment was contrary to the Manitoba Human Rights Code.

“If this employee actually works exclusively from home, it makes the situation that much more ridiculous,” Samfiru said.

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