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Work Refusals

Let's face it: when the boss or supervisor tells you to do task, you probably don't want to say no.

But if you're afraid the task is dangerous, if you think it can hurt you or another worker, you may need to say no. But first, talk to your boss or supervisor. Explain your concerns about the safety of the task. Most times, you can work it out.

But if you don't, and you still believe the work is unsafe, you are protected by the legal Right to Refuse. If you do refuse, be polite but firm. The Occupational Health and Safety Act spells out the steps that you and your employer must follow. When the right steps have been followed, if your boss disciplines you for refusing to do unsafe work, it is a contravention of the law. You can file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

Do all workers have the right to refuse unsafe work?

Yes, but for some workers this right is limited. Certain workers who have a responsibility to protect public safety cannot refuse unsafe work if the danger in question is a normal part of the job or if the refusal would endanger the life, health or safety of another person. These workers can include police officers, firefighters and certain health care workers.

The Right to Refuse is important. Study the process and talk to your JHSC member or worker Health and Safety Representative if you have any questions.

The Work Refusal Process

Worker refuses to work because he or she has reason to believe work endangers health and safety

Worker reports problem to supervisor

Worker representative called in

Supervisor investigates in presence of worker and worker representative

Does supervisor agree that situation endangers health or safety?



Does worker have reasonable grounds to believe work endangers health and safety?

Supervisor takes corrective action




Worker returns to work

Inspector called in

Worker may be assigned reasonable alternative work

Inspector investigates in consultation with the worker, employer and worker representative

Written decision

Corrective action ordered

What happens when you refuse?

If you decide to refuse a task because you think it is unsafe, you must report your refusal to your supervisor or employer.

Once you have done this, your supervisor or employer must call in a Joint Health and Safety Committee worker member or Health and Safety representative (or another worker if a worker member/representative is not available).

The supervisor or employer must investigate your concern in front of you and the worker representative. If your supervisor or employer agrees the work is hazardous, he or she takes corrective action and you return to work.

If the supervisor or employer doesn't agree, but you still believe you have reasonable grounds to refuse the work, then a Ministry of Labour Inspector must be called in. While you wait for the Inspector, your supervisor or employer may tell another worker to do the job you refused, but must tell the other worker about your refusal and the reasons for it.

The Inspector will investigate the work refusal and must give a decision in writing. The Inspector may order corrective action or decide that the job is unlikely to endanger the worker. The decision can be appealed by either the employer or the worker.

While the investigation goes on, you can be assigned reasonable other work by your supervisor or employer.

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