The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

If you find yourself in a situation when you genuinely believe that if the workplace is unsafe or if you are in danger, you have the right to refuse unsafe work under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Follow these steps:

  1. Stop work and move to a safe location.
  2. Inform you supervisor and/or Chair. Carbon copy or inform in a separate email the Local and Health & Safety Officer: &
  3. The supervisor may agree and rectify the situation. Inform your co-workers of the danger.
  4. If the supervisor does not agree, inform the Local immediately. An investigation will then be conducted involving the supervisor and a union representative.
    1. If the investigation finds the workplace unsafe, the employer must remedy the situation immediately. You cannot be asked to return to the area until this is completed.
    2. If the investigation finds it safe and you disagree, inform your supervisor. They must contact the Ministry of Labour to conduct an investigation.
  5. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Ministry may write an order for the employer to remedy the situation or order you to return to work.

It should be noted that the employer may assign you alternate duties or worksite during this period.

If you genuinely believe that your work is unsafe, you cannot be disciplined for refusing work. However, the decision of the Ministry of Labour investigator is final (barring an appeal to the Ontario Labour Relations Board); refusing to return to work if ordered to after the Ministry investigation may result in discipline.


While there no guarantee of complete safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Labour has consistently ruled that COVID-19 on its own does not constitute an unsafe work environment. You would need to demonstrate that the employer is not complying with provincial standards. You can do this with keeping records and documentation.

If a student becomes belligerent after repeated attempts to comply with a mask mandate, you have the right to stop work and remove yourself from the situation. Let your supervisor and the union know as soon as possible.

There are limitations of the right to refuse work in the context of COVID-19. The right to refuse work is done on an individual basis and relies on standards set by the Ministry of Labour. This means that members cannot legally enact a work refusal in solidarity with other colleagues who are facing unsafe working conditions. It also means that, if the province enacts unreasonable policies, this is the standard against which a Ministry inspector would judge your claim of unsafe work. Despite these limits, if you believe your work is unsafe, you should exercise your right to refuse unsafe work immediately.

(Source: CUPE 3903)