As many workplaces return to in-person business, many people wonder if they have the legal right to refuse
Approximately 39 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The curve is flattening; many people are transitioning back to the office after working from home throughout the pandemic. Many working Canadians have questions regarding whether they have the legal right to deny their employer’s request to return.
You have the legal right to refuse unsafe work.
For those wondering whether they have a legal right to refuse to work due to COVID-19 concerns, the straightforward answer is – no. You cannot refuse to work simply because COVID-19 exists. You may, however, refuse to work due to COVID-19 if you feel as though your employer has not done enough to protect you and others. Under the Canada Labour Code, every employee has a right to refuse unsafe and dangerous work. This may still apply for circumstances related to COVID-19, but only if an employer fails or refuses to implement necessary safety measures.
To exercise your legal right to refuse unsafe work in the context of COVID-19, you must be present at work, and you must report your concern to your employer. There are legal processes and procedures for reporting and investigating a refusal to determine whether or not there is reasonable danger. If your employer determines that no danger exists, you may still refuse to work if you disagree with their decision. In this case, your employer will contact the Minister of Labour to conduct an investigation. Suppose the Minister comes to the same conclusion as your employer or chooses not to investigate at all. In that case, you can no longer refuse to work unless you decide to appeal the Minister’s decision.
As of right now, the government of Canada has not made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory. Because of this, employers don’t have a legal right to demand that their employees get vaccinated. This also means that employees do not have a legal right to refuse work because they’re not vaccinated or because they may be working with individuals who aren’t.
Your employer cannot make your return-to-work conditional on getting the vaccine. However, it is still their responsibility to keep the workplace as safe as possible. To keep everyone safe, employers may require unvaccinated individuals to continue wearing masks, stay home, or avoid certain workplace areas.
In instances where vaccines are necessary to perform the duties of employment safely, your employer would need to accommodate you “to the point of undue hardship” if you cannot get vaccinated for religious or health reasons. If your choice is based on personal preference, your employer may have a legal right to terminate your contract.
Your health and safety at work are a priority.
It’s normal to feel anxious about returning to work and concerned for your safety in the workplace. It’s crucial to voice any concerns you have about your safety to your employer. It is their responsibility to keep you as safe as possible. If you’re worried or unsure about returning to work, your employer can outline the safety measures in place and may be able to make some accommodations for you. Otherwise, it is your responsibility to report to work as usual once you are asked.