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COVID-19 Update - Right to Refuse Work

Under Section 43 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, workers have the legal right to refuse unsafe work if they have a reason to believe any of the following are likely to endanger them:

  • Any equipment, machine, device or thing the worker is about to use or operate;
  • Any physical condition of the workplace (this can include biological hazards such as COVID-19);
  • Workplace violence.

Employers have obligations to protect workers from hazards in the workplace as set out in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), its regulations, and the directives coming from the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Workers should raise all concerns to their immediate Supervisor, Joint Health and Safety Committee, Health and Safety Representative, and Union Steward.

Refusing unsafe work:  A step by step guide

  1. FIRST STAGE
    1. Worker:  Notify your supervisor or employer about the circumstances for refusing to work.  It is illegal for the employer to discipline workers for exercising their right to refuse work.  The supervisor or employer must investigate the situation with the Worker and the Worker Safety Representative from the Joint Health and Safety Committee or a Union Representative.
    2. Supervisor:  Investigates in the presence of the Worker and a Worker Health and Safety Representative or Union Representative and takes remedial action.
       
  2. SECOND STAGE
    1. If, following this investigation, the Worker has reasonable grounds to believe the unsafe condition still exists, the Worker may continue to refuse the work.  Worker, Worker Health and Safety Representative or the Employer must notify the Ministry of Labour (MOL).
    2. The MOL Inspector must investigate in consultation with Worker, the Employer, and a Worker Health and Safety Representative of the Joint Health and Safety Committee, or a Union Representative.  The inspector’s decision must be provided in writing to all those involved in the investigation.
    3. Until the inspector’s decision is made, the Worker remains in a safe place that is as near as reasonably possible to his or her workstation and available to the inspector for the investigation.  Pending the investigation and decision of the inspector, the worker can be assigned reasonable alternative work.  No other Worker can be assigned the work pending the decision of the Inspector unless advised of the refusal and reasons for refusal in the presence of a Worker Health and Safety Representative or Union Representative.  The second worker has the same right to refuse the work as the first worker.
  1. MOL INVESTIGATION
    1. If the inspector finds that the circumstance is not likely to endanger anyone, the refusing worker is expected to return to work.  If the inspector finds that the circumstance(s) is likely to endanger the worker or another person, the inspector will typically order the employer to remedy the hazard.