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An Overview of the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

Employment Law | April 29, 2022

Workers have the right to refuse unsafe work regardless of the industry they work in. Unfortunately, many employees do not know about this right or feel pressured to ignore these rights even if they are aware of them. In some cases, proceeding with work in an unsafe environment can lead to severe injury, property damage, or even death. To maintain a high level of safety in any work environment, workers and employers alike should be aware of their rights and understand why they matter. That is why the employment lawyers at Linley Welwood have provided an overview of the right to refuse unsafe work and the steps that should be followed when faced with unsafe work conditions.

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Steps to Follow When Faced with Unsafe Work Conditions

If a worker wishes to refuse work, both the employee and the employer must follow the process below:

  1. The employee must immediately report the unsafe work condition(s) to their supervisor or employer.
  2. The supervisor or employer receiving the report must immediately investigate the matter and ensure that any unsafe condition is remedied without delay. If the employer believes that this report is not valid, they must inform the employee who made the report.
  3. If this procedure does not resolve the matter and the employee continues to refuse to carry out their responsibilities, the supervisor or employer must investigate the matter in the presence of the employee who made the report. This investigation must also be performed in the presence of:
    1. A member of the joint health and safety committee.
    2. An employee who is selected by a trade union representing the worker (if applicable).
  4. If the investigation does not resolve the matter and the employee continues to refuse work, both the employer and the worker must immediately notify a WorkSafeBC officer.
  5. The WorkSafeBC officer will then investigate the matter as quickly as possible and take steps to provide a workable solution.

Additional Considerations

In addition to completing the steps above as required, employers and employees should be aware of the following facts:

  • Employers must continue to pay employees during the work refusal process at their normal rate of pay, though the employee can be assigned temporary duties while this process is ongoing.
  • Employers cannot retaliate against employees who raise valid concerns about refusing to work. This means they cannot be terminated, have their compensation/hours reduced, or be suspended, disciplined, demoted, or have other retaliatory actions taken against them.

Navigating a work refusal can be a complicated process. As each case is unique, employers and employees are encouraged to contact experienced counsel to provide case-specific advice.

To learn more about the right to refuse unsafe work or other crucial areas of employment law, get in touch with the team at Linley Welwood. We can be reached through our online contact form and will be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding our services or the details of your case.


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