The right to refuse work

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), workers have the right to refuse work that they believe to be unsafe to themselves or to other workers. This includes instances where a worker believes they may be in danger of workplace violence.

As an employer, you are prohibited from penalizing workers for lawfully refusing to work under the Act. This includes disciplining, dismissing, suspending or threatening the worker with consequences.

Employer responsibility when a worker refuses to work

Like other components of the OHSA, there is a procedure for a lawful work refusal that everyone in the workplace must understand.

This typically starts with a worker reporting to their supervisor or employer that they consider the work to be unsafe. After a worker reports a refusal to work to their supervisor or employer for one of the above reasons, the employer or supervisor then has a series of responsibilities.

First, as the employer or supervisor, you must immediately investigate the situation in the presence of:

  1. The worker, and
  2. Either a joint health and safety committee member on the worker representation side (ideally a certified member) for workplaces with a committee; or a health and safety representative for workplaces where there is no committee; or another worker who has been chosen by the workers to represent them due to their experience, knowledge and training.

This is generally understood as the first stage of work refusal. If the situation is able to be resolved, the worker will return to work.

Depending on the severity of the safety issue, this may be escalated to include the Ministry of Labour in coming to a resolution. This occurs when the safety issues can’t be resolved, or the worker is not satisfied with the resolution.

As the employer, you (or a legal representative) are responsible for contacting the Ministry of Labour in this situation. Typically, an inspector from the Ministry of Labour will be sent to investigate. The Ministry will take it from here and direct the employer as to the next steps. This is generally known as the second stage of work refusal.

In more serious situations, specified and certified individuals have the right to stop work entirely. Responsibilities under the Act vary depending on the situation.

We’re here to help employers with employees who have exercised their right refused to work. Call us today.

Give our helpline a call so our health and safety experts can better understand your situation and point you in the right direction under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Call us at 1-888-216-2550.