On October 28, 2021, the Ottawa Police Service Organized Fraud Unit charged two individuals with fraud-related offences after discovering that the individuals were in possession of falsely obtained COVID-19 vaccine certificates.
The Ottawa police received information on September 21, 2021 from the director of a local shelter who suspected that one of their employees presented a fraudulent vaccination certificate to maintain her employment at the shelter. The police investigated the information and found that the employee obtained their vaccine certificate by submitting forged documents and falsely attesting that she received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination.
Another individual from the same household as the employee also obtained an Ontario COVID-19 vaccine certificate through the same fraudulent process. Both individuals submitted forged documents which stated that they received their COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. The two individuals were subsequently criminally charged with “Uttering Forged Documents” (which refers to the altering or creation of a document in order to commit fraud, without the knowledge of the authorizing party) and “Obtain by False Pretence” (which refers to a false claim made by words or otherwise, that is known by the person who makes it to be false). These are serious criminal offences that carry with them a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Individuals who sell, purchase, use, or knowingly accept a false COVID-19 vaccine certificate or passport are engaging in a punishable criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Under the Ontario government’s regulation, fines for individuals who don’t comply with the COVID-19 screening measures or those who present fraudulent documents will begin at $750. For businesses, fines will begin at $1,000. As this case makes clear, authorities are not limited to charging employees who present fraudulent documents to the powers under the regulation; they can also charge them under the Criminal Code.
Employers who have a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for their employees, or who are required to check for proof of vaccination from patrons, should remain vigilant towards individuals who may present a falsely obtained COVID-19 vaccination certificate. For employers with vaccination policies, whether mandatory or voluntary, and for employers who may be concerned that their employees may falsify their vaccine certificates, consider informing them that falsifying their vaccine certificates is a criminal offence.
Employers should also review their employee handbook and, to the extent the handbook has a provision that prohibits employees from engaging in fraud, lying, and similar conduct at work, consider cross-referencing that policy in the vaccination policy.
Another option to help minimize the risk of employees falsifying their vaccine document is for employers to download the free Verify Ontario app and to encourage their employees to download the government issued QR code. This app makes it easier for businesses to confirm if a person is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The app will only scan and read the QR code that individuals can download, while protecting their privacy. Although it is not mandatory for individuals to download the enhanced vaccine certificate with the QR code, meaning individuals can present a paper or digital certificate instead to prove that they are vaccinated, employers should still urge their employees to download the QR code.
Fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination certificates are increasingly becoming more common where cybercriminals are offering to sell these certificates online. If an employer suspects that an employee has presented a falsified vaccine certificate, the employer could consider taking serious disciplinary action in accordance with their progressive discipline policy. In some cases, presenting a falsified vaccine certificate may amount to just cause for dismissal.
If employers have eased their safety and social distancing measures for employees who are vaccinated, and/or discontinued any COVID-19 testing requirements for unvaccinated workers, an unvaccinated person (even if the employer thought they were vaccinated) could pose a danger to workers around them. To help reduce any legal exposure that an employer may face, employers should ensure that they continue to enforce their COVID-19 rules in the workplace in order to comply with their legal duties to protect the health and safety of their workers.
This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.
This information is not intended as legal advice.