Tribunal Ordered to Reconsider “Misconduct” Denial of EI Benefits to Unvaccinated Employee

OTTAWA: The Justice Centre is pleased to announce the decision of the Appeal Division of the Social Security Tribunal which reversed the summary dismissal of an unvaccinated flight instructor’s EI benefits claim. The General Division of the Social Security Tribunal (SST) is now required to address whether in fact it was employment “misconduct” for this flight instructor to follow his sincere religious convictions to not take the Covid-19 shots.

Service Canada and the Canada Employment Insurance Commission (the “Commission”) are insisting that employees terminated for not getting the Covid-19 shots have been suspended due to their own “misconduct”, and consequently have denied them benefits under s. 31 of the Employment Insurance Act. Such decisions echo comments made by Minister Carla Qualtrough, who stated that those fired for refusing vaccination shouldn’t be eligible for EI benefits.

Mr. Jean-Luc Sprunger was dismissed from his job as a flight instructor for refusing to get the Covid-19 shot. Although it was widely known that he was a sincere follower of his religious beliefs, his employer refused to accept his religious exemption that was submitted along with confirmations from his pastor and church elders. His employer did not accommodate him by offering to allow him to work from home or to take a potential on-the-ground position.

Like most Canadian workers, Mr. Sprunger paid into the employment insurance (EI) program, as required, for many years. He applied for EI benefits and was refused because his dismissal was labelled “misconduct” by Service Canada and the Commission. He then made an application to the SST General Division on his own. His application was summarily dismissed without a hearing, and the decision stated his matter was “bound to fail.”

Mr. Sprunger appealed the decision of the SST General Division and was represented by Cynthia Murphy, a lawyer working with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

The SST Appeal Division allowed the appeal. The Appeal Division stated the General Division erred in law in summarily dismissing the application. The Appeal Division further stated that “misconduct” cases are not clearly bound to fail, and they should not be summarily dismissed. The Appeal Division stated the General Division is not permitted to use the summary dismissal procedure to circumvent the general rule that appellants be given the chance to be heard.

The SST Appeal Division has sent Mr. Sprunger’s matter back to a different member of the General Division for a hearing.

“The government’s denial of basic subsistence benefits to fired employees on the basis of their personal medical decisions has been a gross abuse of their bodily autonomy and constitutional rights,” states Cynthia Murphy, a lawyer with the Justice Centre. “With that in mind, the Justice Centre will continue to pursue legal challenges to the denial of EI benefits to Canadians based on their personal medical decisions.”