Employee Right to Refuse Unsafe 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 taking or threatening to take disciplinary action against an employee for exercising their right to refuse unsafe work under the OHSA. Employees are required to report the work refusal and their reasons for it promptly to a supervisor, employer or employer’s designate.

Employer responsibility when a worker refuses unsafe work

There is a procedure for a lawful work refusal that everyone in the workplace – workers and employers – must understand and follow.

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, employers are required by law to look into the danger and eliminate it. For e.g., you may need to replace broken or damaged tools/equipment.

If the hazard cannot be eliminated immediately, employers must stop work, discuss the hazard with the refusing worker and conduct a hazard inspection, if it is safe and reasonable to do so.

In either case, the employer is required to inform the workplace health and safety committee or representative of the refusal at the earliest possible. The health and safety committee or representative may raise concerns or make recommendations that the employer must respond to. 

Employers cannot re-start work or assign the work to another worker until they have carried out a hazard inspection and eliminated the hazard, or ascertained that there is no hazard.

Employers can temporarily assign the worker to another task they are trained to perform, but at no loss of pay. If an inspection was conducted, the employer is required to submit a work refusal report – without disclosing the identity of the refusing worker.

If the refusing worker feels the task or worksite is unsafe even after the inspection and report, they may notify OHS. Employees can also contact OHS if they feel employers have not carried out their duty as per section 17 of the OHSA.

We’re here to help employers with employees who have exercised their right to refuse unsafe 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 1-888-207-0657.