Northern Exposure

Handling Work Refusals

McCarthy Tetrault

Your employees in Canada have the right to refuse tasks that may endanger them or others. Health and safety laws spell out not only your obligations but also what your employees must do when refusing work, so it’s important for you to understand how to handle such situations. Here are some tips to help you deal with work refusals:

•Â Â Â  Make sure you have a written health and safety policy that sets out the procedure to follow when someone refuses work.
•Â Â Â  Make sure employees know how to communicate a work refusal, and establish procedures for investigating work refusals.
•Â Â Â  Train supervisors how to recognize and respond to a work refusal. Generally, your first duty is to investigate the reason for the refusal.
•Â Â Â  Prepare a form that supervisors can use when investigating a work refusal. The form should cover information such as the name of the worker, the date and time of the refusal, the reason, witnesses, a neutral description of the situation, and the investigation’s outcome.
•Â Â Â  Instruct supervisors to ask the employee refusing to work these questions: “Are you refusing to work?” and “Why are you refusing to work?” You must distinguish between an employee who is simply reporting a hazard and one who is starting a true work refusal.
•Â Â Â  If the refusal can’t be resolved, have the supervisor contact the appropriate safety inspector or government officer. Document the time of the call, who made the call, and what the inspector or officer was told.
•Â Â Â  Don’t discipline an employee for a work refusal without first conducting a thorough investigation. The law provides protection for employees against unwarranted discipline in the face of a safety-related work refusal.
•Â Â Â  You may be able to discipline an employee if your investigation proves that the employee refused work without having legitimate safety concerns, but obtain legal advice before administering that kind of discipline.
•Â Â Â  And remember, the best way to prevent work refusals is to make them unnecessary. Cooperate with your joint health and safety committee to identify and correct any legitimate safety concern before it escalates into a work refusal.