It is the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace for all employees. Teachers have the right to refuse unsafe work (Sections 3.12 and 3.13 of WCB Regulations). Examples of unsafe work for teachers: serious communicable diseases, physical problems like the presence of mold, asbestos or construction, violence or threats of violence, ergonomics, etc.

The refusal of unsafe work is an individual decision. It cannot be as a collective strategy by a group of workers. Individuals must have reasonable cause to believe that the workplace is unsafe for them. Where it concerns a violent child, for example, the teacher must provide sufficient documentation to support the claim.

The Act requires that any person, who has reason to believe that an unsafe condition exists in the workplace, must report it. The unsafe condition may affect the teacher or anyone else. This is an exception to the usual practice of “work now, grieve later.” The teacher informs the principal and asks to be reassigned immediately. It is against the law for an employer to counsel a teacher against reporting an unsafe condition or violent incident. Employers can be fined personally for doing so.

The situation is resolved when sufficient changes have been made to ensure the safety of the employee, and the employee is satisfied with the changes.

How to Refuse Unsafe Work

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 3.12 you must refuse unsafe, or unhealthy work.Regulation 3.13 says that you cannot be fired or disciplined for refusing unsafe work.

If you have reason to believe the work is likely to harm you or someone else, this is what you must do:

    • Talk to your supervisor or employer.
    • The supervisor must investigate and immediately fix the problem or let you know that s/he doesn’t think that there is a problem.
    • If you still believe the work is dangerous, you can continue to refuse and the supervisor must further investigate in the presence of the worker and a worker representative from the Health & Safety Committee, a union designate or a co-worker selected by you.
    • If you still believe that the work is unsafe, you can continue to refuse and you and the employer must contact the WCB. The toll-free number is 1 (888) 621-7233.
    • A WCB Board Officer will investigate, without delay and issue, whatever orders s/he considers necessary.
    • You may be reassigned to alternate work, at no loss of pay, while you are waiting for the WCB Board officer’s decision.
    • You have the right to appeal an order of the WCB Board Officer.