Regardless of whether you work in a safety-sensitive role or spend most of your day behind a desk, all employees have the right to a safe working environment. Provincial occupational health and safety legislation imposes duties and responsibilities on employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure your safety while at work. Likewise, as an employee, you have a duty to follow the safety policies and practices established by your employer to keep you safe.
It is important for employees to understand that workplace safety is not only concerned with potential physical dangers such as heavy machinery or potentially toxic substances. In fact, workplace health and safety includes an employee’s right to be free from emotional, mental and physical danger as well. This means that an employee who is subject to workplace bullying, harassment (including sexual harassment) and/or violence has been exposed to an unsafe working environment.
Every employee should feel safe at work. But what can an employee do when this is not the case?
Employees who are struggling with a potential safety concern at work should be aware of their rights, including the right to refuse work in certain circumstances, and to have complaints and incidents of harassment and/or violence investigated in a timely and neutral manner. In addition, employees who are injured or suffer illness as a result of an employer’s failure to provide them with a safe working environment may be entitled to compensation under provincial workers compensation and insurance legislation, damages, or reinstatement of their employment.
We regularly assist employees to manage health and safety issues at work, including helping employees to understand their rights and their options. In some cases we will work with employees “behind the scenes”, assisting to craft communications to the employer to attempt to address and remedy the problem. In other cases it may be appropriate for us to communicate with your employer on your behalf, in particular where the work environment is so toxic or dangerous that you are not able to remain at work in the meantime. We will assist you in whatever way is most appropriate for your circumstances.
Employees should be aware that they cannot be penalized for bringing a legitimate health and safety concern to the attention of their employer. Punishing an employee for attempting to enforce their rights under occupational health and safety legislation is unlawful. If you are disciplined, or your employment is terminated due to a complaint you’ve made involving your health and safety, don’t hesitate to contact us immediately.