Right to refuse dangerous work

The Canada Labour Code gives employees the right to refuse dangerous work. Here are some guidelines:

  • Report the details of the perceived hazard to your employer without delay and indicate that you are exercising your right to refuse work because you believe that the hazard constitutes a danger.
  • If your employer agrees that a danger exists, the employer is then obliged to take immediate action to protect you and other employees from the danger and to inform the workplace committee or the health and safety representative about the action(s) taken to resolve the problem.

If you have a collective agreement which includes right to refuse language, you have to choose which process to follow before you exercise your right. Once you have chosen, you cannot change your mind unless the employer agrees (s.128(7)).

You can also refuse to work if you have reasonable cause to believe that the performance of the activity by a worker endangers yourself or another worker (s.128(1)(c)).

You cannot refuse in certain dangerous circumstances. Those circumstances include:

  • when the refusal to work puts the life, health or safety of another person directly in danger (s.128(2)(a));
  • when the danger is a normal condition of employment (s.128(2)(b)).

If there's no resolution:

  • You may continue the work refusal, reporting the circumstances of the matter without delay to your employer and to the workplace committee or the health and safety representative.
  • After being informed of the continued refusal, your employer is required to investigate the matter in your presence and in the presence of either a worker member of the workplace committee or a health and safety representative or, if neither is available, a person from the workplace selected by you.
  • If your employer disputes that the situation constitutes a danger, but you have reasonable cause to believe that the danger continues to exist, you may continue the work refusal.
  • Upon being notified of your continued refusal, the employer will notify a Health and Safety Officer from Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) of the refusal.
  • You may then be assigned reasonable alternative work or be asked to remain in a safe location in the workplace.
  • Once informed of the continued refusal, a Health and Safety Officer will investigate the matter in the presence of all parties.
  • The Health and Safety Officer will decide if danger exists and provide written notification of the decision to you and your employer.

Appealing a decision you disagree with:

An employee who disagrees with the decision of the Health and Safety Officer is not entitled to continue the work refusal, however, he or she will have 10 days in which to file a written appeal with an Appeals Officer from The Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal Canada (OHSTC).

An employer, employee or trade union may appeal a Health and Safety Officer's direction by filing a written appeal with an OHSTC Appeals Officer within 30 days of the initial direction.


September 13, 2013