Sarah Bruce
Public Relations / Member Engagement
Email: sarahbruce@ara.bc.ca
Phone: 604-432-7987

Refusal of Unsafe Work

Employer and Employee Rights and Responsibilities:

B.C. has just unveiled its plan to reopen the economy and to phase people back to work. We know that life will not return to normal anytime soon and out of all this, we will even see permanent changes in the way we go about our daily lives, including how we work. The threat of COVID-19 still looms and we are now being asked to face the risks that have kept us isolated from one another these past eight weeks. How will your employees respond to this new normal and what can you do to ease their concerns and transition them back to a safe and healthy environment?

Section 3 of the WorkSafeBC Regulations lays out the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers for providing a safe work environment. Within these rights is an employee’s right to refuse unsafe work and the duties of the employer to respond. As for the right to refuse unsafe work, it is based on a general procedural framework but then is assessed according to each situation.

Here are some resources that can help you manage employees returning to work:

  • WorkSafeBC’s webpage on the right to refuse unsafe work.
  • A meeting guide on the right to refuse unsafe work.
  • WorkSafeBC’s guidelines (support the regulation).

For employers, the key thing to remember is that it’s all about risk management.  Has the risk been assessed and have appropriate levels of controls been implemented?  This process should be worked through with the employee(s) to ascertain what risk they have identified and why they do not think it has been adequately controlled. It’s important to involve employees in the process and to communicate out what is being done and why.

In summary, there’s a framework provided to work within, but each situation could be different.

Here are some tips to help you better manage the process:

  • Pre-communicate with employees when possible before returning to the workplace (email, phone call, online meeting) to prepare them for the changes.
  • COVID-19 changes would be a change to the risk so a re-orientation is required; address what policies, procedures, and controls have been implemented at the workplace and to the job tasks. For more information on orientation please see ARA’s orientation guidebook:87 https://ohs.ara.bc.ca/orientation-guides.
  • If a worker has concerns ask them what the specific concern is and if they have recommendations for corrective action.
  • Right to refuse is a procedural process so work through the steps but the key is to communicate and involve workers in the process.

The best tip for you right now is that employers, as always, should be documenting what they are doing to assess the risk and manage it.  Many employers have implemented COVID-19 controls such as physical distancing procedures, PPE, or plexiglass barriers but they don’t have anything documenting the why, what, and when. This documentation is beneficial for multiple purposes, for example, if an officer (this could be a PHO officer, bylaw officer or WorkSafeBC PFS officer) contacts the employer it can be used to quickly update them, and it can be used in RTW or right to refuse unsafe work processes.