Employee Rights

The model of recognizing occupational health and safety rights focuses on the employee. Nova Scotia’s occupational health and safety legislation creates methods by which the individual employee is empowered and can exercise his or her right to take action so as to be safe and healthy in the work they do and also to protect other persons who are at the workplace.

Rights under the OHS Act include:

The right to Know about hazards, the right to participate in occupational health and safety, and the right to refuse unsafe work: The right to information on issues that affect your health and safety.

The right to Participate in occupational health and safety is done via the JOHS Committee. All employees are represented by the JOHS Committee and must have regular access to committee members. Employees also have the right to report unsafe conditions, and voice concerns or opinions on any issue that affects their health and safety or the health and safety of anyone at the workplace.

The right to Refuse unsafe or unhealthy work.

Every employee has the right to refuse to do any act which he/she believes is likely to endanger his or her health or safety or the health or safety of another person, but must follow the procedure for doing so which is set out in Section 43 of the OHS Act.

StFX University has developed a procedure for responding to employee unsafe work refusals which conforms to the three-step process required by the OHS Act. 

A refusal to undertake work believed to be unsafe will always be regarded as an urgent situation, and all involved parties must give the situation their immediate attention.

As in the case of reporting a hazard or concern, employees are to exercise their right to refuse unsafe work without fear of reprisal or discriminatory action.  Because of the potential seriousness of the situation, the employee should make sure he/she has done everything possible to eliminate or control the problem if this is possible without personal risk.  The area should be secured if possible harm might occur to others.

Step 1 - Report To A Supervisor, Manager Or Chair

The first step in exercising the right to refuse unsafe work is for the employee to report the problem to his or her immediate supervisor, manager or Chair.  The employee should remain in a safe place until the problem is eliminated or controlled to their satisfaction or until they are assigned another task.  While the investigation and any remedial actions are being carried out, the employee may be assigned to other duties.

The supervisor, manager or Chair shall investigate the refusal, make a decision, and if necessary, correct the situation or control the hazard.

The supervisor, manager or Chair’s conclusions shall be communicated to the employee who exercised the unsafe work refusal.  If the supervisor, manager or Chair concludes there is no hazard, or that the hazard is adequately controlled, an explanation must be given and the employee advised to return to work.  If the employee is satisfied that the matter has been resolved or accepts the explanation given by the supervisor or manager, then he/she should return to work and the matter is concluded.

The manager or Chair must document the resolution of the refusal to work on a Work Refusal Form.

Where an employee has exercised their right to refuse under section 43 of the OHS Act, no other employee shall be assigned to do that work unless the replacement employee has been advised of the refusal by the first employee, the reason for the refusal, and the replacement employee’s right to refuse under section 43.

Step 2 - Formal Referral To The Johs Committee

When exercising his/her right to refuse unsafe work and the hazard or concern has not been remedied to the employee’s satisfaction following reporting the hazard or concern to the employee’s manager, or Chair, the employee shall take the next step in the unsafe work refusal process.  The JOHS Committee Co-Chairs shall initiate an immediate investigation by the Committee.

The employee who has exercised the right to refuse must be given the opportunity to accompany the area JOHS Committee on a physical inspection of the workplace for the purpose of ensuring that the investigators understand the reasons for the refusal.

The area JOHS Committee may agree with the employee who has exercised the unsafe work refusal and in such case shall make recommendations to management as to how to correct the problem.  If the JOHS Committee does not find reason to support the work refusal, it may advise the employee to return to work, but such direction must be the unanimous decision of the area JOHS Committee.

Step 3 - Formal Referral To The OHS Division, Department Of Labour And Advanced Education

If the area JOHS Committee cannot agree unanimously that the employee should return to work, or if the problem is not resolved to the employee’s satisfaction, the exercising of the right to refuse will continue.

The JOHS Committee or the employee who is not satisfied with the outcome of his/her work refusal, shall contact the Occupational Health and Safety Division (OHSD) of the Department of Labour and Advanced Education (1-800-952-2687).  An OHSD Officer will take the case on a priority basis and will investigate as soon as possible.  If the Officer finds that the task refused is unsafe, he/she will ensure that no one performs the task until appropriate action is taken to remedy the situation.  If the Officer cannot find indications that the task is unsafe, or finds that the hazard has been adequately controlled, he/she will advise the employee to return to work.  These findings will be confirmed in writing to the employee and the University.