3 BASIC RIGHTS OF WORKERS IN ONTARIO-WHAT YOU MUST KNOW

Every person employed in Ontario has the right to work in a safe environment. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (“the Act”) has established safety procedures for employees in the workplace and entitled them to three fundamental rights. These includes the right to know about workplace health and safety hazards, the right to participate in making decisions about workplace health and safety and the right to refuse work in an unsafe environment.

Right to Know

Pursuant to the Act, employers are obligated to inform their workers about known or potential safety hazards in the workplace. Before the work begins, workers have the right to know about all these hazards and to be provided with information, instructions, and supervision necessary to protect their health and safety.

Employers can provide workplace safety information in the form of product labels, safety data sheets or safe work procedures. The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is one example of the right to know. Workers get to know more about the chemical and biological material hazards on the job through the use of this system.

Right to Participate

Workers have the right to make recommendations about workplace health and safety. They should be allowed to provide input on the steps taken by the employer to ensure health and safety.

The right to participate can be achieved in a number of ways, such as raising issues and making suggestions to the employers about workplace health and safety. One of the most effective ways to get involved is to become a health and safety representative or a member of Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC). These workers assess, identify and control workplace hazards and are responsible of reporting them to their employers.

Right to Refuse

Workers have the right to refuse work in an environment that they believe will endanger their health or safety. Employers cannot fire or discipline their workers by using this right. In Ontario, the right to refuse process involves several steps. The Act sets out a specific procedure that must be followed in any work refusal.

Procedure for a Work Refusal

First Stage:

  • 1. The worker considers work is unsafe;
  • 2. The worker stays in a safe place and reports work refusal to their supervisor or employer. They may also wish to advise their worker safety representative and/or management representative.
  • 3. The employer or supervisor investigates the work conditions in the presence of the worker or the worker safety representative.
  • 4. Either
    • a. Issue resolved. The worker goes back to work.
    • b. Issue not resolved. The investigation proceeds to the second stage.

Second Stage

  • 1. The worker continues to refuse work and remains in a safe place based on reasonable grounds to believe work is still unsafe. The worker, employer or someone representing the worker or employer calls the Ministry of Labour (MOL).
  • 2. The MOL investigates the working conditions in the presence of the worker, safety representative and supervisor or management representative.
  • 3. The inspector gives decision to the worker, management representative/supervisor and safety representative in writing.
  • 4. Changes are made if required or order. The worker returns to work.

The Act provides workers with protection from reprisals from their employers, should they decide to refuse work or sought enforcement of the Act. If you are experiencing occupational health and safety issues, top Toronto employment lawyer, Stacey ball can help you determine your legal options. Please call us at 416-921-7997, extension 227.