Am I allowed to refuse work if I believe I am at risk of COVID-19?

Posted:  Mar 27, 2020

In short: You can refuse work, but you need to follow specific steps, and you may still have to show up for your shift. 

In BC, the Occupational Health & Safety Regulations dictate occupational health and safety requirements for workplaces and protect workers and other persons present at workplaces from work-related risks to their health, safety, and well-being. These regulations govern most provincial workplaces in BC that are covered by WorkSafeBC. It does not cover mines and federally chartered workplaces such as banks, interprovincial and international transportation, telephone systems, and radio, television, and cable services. If you work for one of these sectors, this information may not be relevant to you. 

Section 3.12 of the Regulations allow you to refuse to carry out work if you have reasonable cause to believe that doing so would create an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person.

In these unprecedented times, it may be considered reasonable to refuse work because you cannot safely practice social distancing in your workplace and close contact with others has the potential to impact you and your family. 

If you have reasonable cause to believe that performing a job or task puts you or someone else at risk, you must not perform the job or task. You still have an obligation to show up though.  

If you think that your work is unsafe, you must follow the steps set out by the Regulations: 

1. Immediately report the circumstances of the unsafe condition to your supervisor or employer. It is always better to have this done in writing, with a copy kept for your records. 

2. The supervisor or employer must immediately investigate the matter and
  • fix it without delay if possible, or
  • if in their opinion the report is not valid, inform the person who made the report. 

3. If you still view the work as unsafe after a supervisor or employer has said it is safe to perform a job or task, 
  • The supervisor or employer must investigate the situation in your presence and:
    • a worker representative of the joint health and safety committee, or 
    • a worker chosen by the worker's trade union. 
  • If there is no safety committee or representing trade union at the workplace, you can choose to have another worker present at the investigation. 
4. If you still feel unsafe, notify WorkSafeBC. A Prevention Officer will then investigate and take steps to find a workable solution. 

It is important to know that you have these rights always, not just during a pandemic. 

If you are concerned about what may happen if you report an unsafe workplace, refuse to go to work, or disagree with a WorkSafeBC decision, you should speak with our employment lawyer. 

Every situation is unique and you will benefit from having tailored advice from an expert in this area. Call us today to schedule a consult with an employment lawyer: 250-248-8220. 

Disclaimer: This information is legal information only, and is not to be considered legal advice. For advice related to your specific situation, call us at 250-248-8220.  


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