The right to refuse unsafe work

There has been a lot of questions regarding the Right to Refuse, therefore, UVAE felt it important to share information on the process so that members know what their rights are and the process to follow. If you have any concern, please contact your Regional Vice President (RVP) who will coordinate with the National Office. 

The Occupational Health and Safety Act in your jurisdiction entitles all workers to three rights: 

  1. The right to know about health and safety matters. 
  2. The right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety. 
  3. The right to refuse work that could affect their health and safety and that of others. 

What is meant by the “Right to Refuse “? 

The right to refuse is normally used when the first two rights fail to ensure your health and safety. Exercising this right is serious and should not be done lightly or as a routine method of solving workplace problems. 

However, workers should not be afraid to exercise their Right to Refuse when they believe that the work will endanger their health or safety, or that of others. The right to refuse process involves several steps. 

Common steps include: 

  1. Tell your supervisor about what is unsafe about your work. The supervisor must respond to your concerns, and, if in agreement, must take corrective action(s) to resolve the matter. If your supervisor disagrees with you, they should explain why they disagree. 
  2. If you are not satisfied with your supervisor’s action(s) and your workplace has a health and safety committee or representative, advise them of your concerns. They can conduct an investigation on your behalf and provide a decision on their findings. If they agree with you, they can make recommendations to your employer to take corrective measures to remedy the unsafe situation. 
  3. If you are not satisfied with the committee or representative’s action(s) or if there is no committee/representative, you can contact a health and safety officer in your jurisdiction who can investigate your concern. If the officer disagrees with you, the officer will advise you to return to work. 
  4. If you disagree with the officer’s decision, you have a right to appeal with your jurisdiction. 
  5. The employer has the right to temporarily reassign you to perform other work while the investigation is being conducted. 
  6. An employer may also assign another worker to perform the work, but only after advising the other worker of the work refusal and the reasons. 
  7. At all times during a work refusal process, workers can document their concerns regarding the dangerous situation or condition, persons they have spoken to, and the outcome of any conversations. 

Below are links to the jurisdictions in Canada for further information about the right to refuse and the steps recommended in that jurisdiction:

Right to Refuse in Canada 

NWT and NT 

See also: