Employment lawyers explain laws and regulations surrounding personal protective equipment at work.
Everyone has a right to be safe while they work. Depending on the type of work you do, there may be instances where you need to wear special equipment to ensure your safety. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there’s been a lot of discussion about personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace, when it’s mandatory, and the rights of employees and employers. Masks are the most widespread form of PPE currently and may continue to be in a post-pandemic world as well. Employment lawyers get questions about PPE all the time, especially in concerns about an employer’s responsibility to provide PPE. Knowing your rights and obligations and those of your employer is crucial to ensure your safety and the safety of others.
Is PPE mandatory?
There is a legal requirement for workplaces to have and use PPE in Canada. While it’s not mandatory to use PPE all the time for every job function, it is still compulsory for it to be available as needed. Employers have a duty to ensure that PPE requirements are met; they must be in good condition and stored and cleaned correctly. Depending on the jurisdiction, it’s not always the employer’s responsibility to provide personal protective equipment or provide it at no cost. Regardless, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), employers have a duty to ensure the safety of workers by taking every reasonable precaution in the circumstances. In environments where health and safety risks can’t be managed or controlled in other ways, the employer should provide PPE.
When is it a requirement for workers to wear PPE?
The type of PPE and when it’s used entirely depends on the job’s demands and the kind of work someone is doing. PPE is always legally required when working in situations and environments that involve biological or chemical agents. In some circumstances, PPE is also required to protect workers from hazardous sound and noise levels. An employer should always outline PPE requirements and expectations and provide guides and training on using them safely.
The employer’s responsibility to provide PPE
Depending on where in Canada you live, there are different laws regarding PPE.
Provinces that require employers to provide workers with PPE at no cost:
- Northwest Territories
Provinces where PPE should be provided by the employer but do not specify who should purchase:
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Prince Edward Island
Provinces with varying guidelines and responsibility to pay for PPE:
- British Colombia
- New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia
It’s always a good idea to research the laws and employer/employee responsibilities for providing and paying for PPE in your region. If you have any concerns about PPE and your rights in the workplace, you should speak with your employer or an employment lawyer.
Can an employer fire you if you refuse to wear PPE?
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a lot of discourse surrounding masks and whether or not they’re mandatory in the workplace. As an employment lawyer, it’s not uncommon to get questions about current mask mandates and bi-laws. As per current public health guidelines, everyone is required to wear a mask in indoor settings; this is no different for employees. If wearing a mask would cause health issues for an employee, there could be some exceptions. However, suppose you choose not to wear a mask for any reason other than to accommodate a medical issue. In that case, you could face discipline at work.
When you start working for a new employer, your employer should clearly define the workplace policies. If there is a policy to wear specific types of PPE, you’re expected to comply. PPE policies are in place to keep you safe. If an accident happens to you or anyone else in the workplace that could have been prevented through the use of PPE, the employer may face liability for not enforcing a policy. Naturally, to avoid these issues from arising and prevent these accidents altogether, most employers will be willing to discipline employees who choose not to comply – including termination. A refusal to wear PPE could be considered a violation of workplace health and safety guidelines or insubordination.
The requirement to ‘provide’ PPE as written in legislation may be confusing for some.
As mentioned above, some certain provinces and jurisdictions only state that PPE is provided by the employer but doesn’t specify who’s responsible for paying for it. If you work in one of these provinces, it may be unclear what the term ‘provide’ actually means in this context.
There is no legal definition for what it means to ‘provide’ PPE. Instead, the term is used based on its commonly accepted usages and meanings. Here is where it can get a bit confusing. Just because the employer has a duty to provide PPE does not mean that they’re responsible for paying for it, must supply it themselves, or provide all of it. If the employer doesn’t supply the PPE for free or offer it at a cost, they would have to direct their workers to where they can purchase the necessary equipment.
An employer will often choose to pay for all – if not some – of the required PPE. The employees’ or employers’ responsibility to pay for PPE should be outlined in union or employment contracts. It’s always wise to have an employment lawyer look over your contracts and agreements before signing them. Even if you need to buy your equipment, your employer still has a legal obligation to ensure that the PPE is the correct type, in proper working condition, and used correctly and safely.
Talk to an employment lawyer about your rights today
People often get too scared to confront their employers or ask questions about their safety. It’s common for most people to assume that their employer always behaves and acts within the law. Employment lawyers see instances of devastating impacts and damages resulting from workplace injuries that were entirely preventable through the use of PPE. Suppose you cannot resolve health and safety issues or any other workplace conflicts with your employer. In that case, you should contact an employment lawyer to inform you of your rights explain your legal options.