Workers in Nova Scotia must be made aware of their rights, and be supported and empowered by their employer to use them when needed.
Under the OH&S Act a worker has the following fundamental rights:
- Right to know: Right to be informed of any hazard that exists in the workplace.
- Right to Participate: Right to participate in their own safety.
- Right to Refuse: Right to refuse work the employee feels is unsafe.
- Right to complain or file grievance without the threat of discriminatory action: Right to freedom from any action that adversely affects an employee such as dismissal, layoff, demotion, transfer, change of hours in response to the right to refuse or right to participate.
Proper Procedure – Right to Refuse Unsafe Work
There are certain steps that employees and employers must follow when an employee invokes their right to refuse unsafe work:
- The employee must immediately report the unsafe work concern to a supervisor. The worker’s priority is immediately reporting to the supervisor the refusal to work and the related safety concern.
- An employee should remain at work, but go to a safe place, away from the hazard.
- After the worker reports the refusal, the supervisor investigates the work. If the supervisor finds the work is safe, or fixes the work to the worker’s satisfaction, the worker returns to work. Alternatively, if the worker continues to believe that the work is unsafe, and disagrees
with the supervisor over this, then the work is investigated again. If the matter is not remedied to the employee’s satisfaction, the employee must report it to the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee or Health and Safety Representative – as applicable. The committee or representative investigate the refused work, and if it is deemed by the representative or committee to be safe, or has it fixed, the employee returns to work.
- If the worker’s still in disagreement with the findings, then the refusing worker can report the unsafe work to the OH&S Division within the Department of Labour and Advanced Education who will investigate the work refusal.
- Meanwhile the employer is allowed to re-assign the refusing worker to another safe work task. The employer also has the right to give the initial work to another employee, provided that employee is made aware of:
- The work refusal;
- The reason for the work refusal; and
- That they also have the right to refuse the work if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the work is unsafe or unhealthy.
Understanding Disciplinary Action
Disciplinary action is any action that results in an employee being reprimanded in a way that impacts their job. Some examples of disciplinary actions are verbal warnings, written warnings, or on the more severe end – suspending or firing of an employee.
Employers cannot reprimand employees for following the rules of the Occupational Health and Safety Act or regulations. It is against the law to take or to threaten disciplinary action because the employee does something which complies with the Occupational Health and Act or attempts to use the rights given to them in the Act.
For example, an employer must not take disciplinary action against an employee because the employee has:
- Used their right to refuse dangerous work.
- Acted as a Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee member or Health and Safety Representative.
- Talked to a Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee, Health and Safety Representative, or the Department of Labour about health and safety violations in the workplace.
- Testified in court about the employer’s health and safety violations.
An employer can take disciplinary action because the employee:
- Has done something in contravention with the Act or regulations.
- Has done something in contravention with the farm’s policies or procedures.
- Has done something unsafe and put themselves or others at risk.
An example of a disciplinary policy has been included in the
accompanying workbook. at or near the workplace and communicate with all other involved parties.