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While there are circumstances where an employee could refuse work over a fear of contracting or being exposed to COVID-19, employees should be careful to avoid refusing to work unreasonably as a general fear of contracting COVID-19 may not be enough to justify a work refusal.

If an employee’s workplace has re-opened ad has implemented reasonable safety precautions to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, the employee could face disciplinary action if they decide not to show up to work. Additionally, it is important to consider that generally, employees must be at work in order to legitimately refuse unsafe work. It is important to note, however, that due to current measures put in place by federal and provincial governments, more flexibility may be given to those refusing to work due to various COVID-19 concerns.

In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) protects employees’ rights with respect to refusing unsafe work. If a worker exercises their right to refuse unsafe work, management must investigate their concerns and attempt to rectify the employees’ issues. Until an investigation is completed (by management or an inspector from the Ministry of Labour), no other work is permitted in the affected area and employees are advised to continue working in other areas. Employers are prohibited from acts of reprisal (i.e., disciplining an employee) for attempting to enforce their rights either through the OHSA or the Employment Standards Act, 2000.

If you believe your employer has penalized you (or otherwise retaliated against you) as a result of asserting your rights under the OHSA or in relation to a safety concern during the COVID-19 era, please contact Toronto employment lawyers, Sultan Lawyers, at (416) 214-5111 or via email to mlahert@sultanlawyers.com.