Who pays for protective equipment?
Question: If we determine personal protective equipment is required for our employees and we make it available, are we obliged to pay for it as well?
Answer: An obligation to pay for an employee’s personal protective equipment may arise under occupational health and safety laws, as well as employment standards legislation. The requirements in the particular jurisdiction should be reviewed carefully to determine the employer’s obligations.
In British Columbia, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation says workers are responsible for providing their own clothing for protection against natural elements, general purpose work gloves, appropriate safety footwear and headgear. The employer is responsible for providing, at no cost to the worker, all other items of personal protective equipment that are required by the regulation, including safety eyewear, respiratory protection, high visibility apparel and fall protection equipment.
British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act prohibits an employer from requiring employees to pay any of the employer’s business costs, including personal protective equipment which the employer is legally responsible or which it otherwise requires employees to wear.
The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to ensure equipment, materials and protective devices prescribed by the legislation are provided to employees.
Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000, does not specifically prohibit an employer from requiring employees to pay business costs, but an employer may only deduct amounts from an employee’s wages in very limited circumstances, such as where there is lost or stolen property or cash shortage and the employee was the only person to have access to that property or cash. Protective equipment costs cannot be deducted.
The federal regime is similar to Ontario. Under the Canada Labour Code, employers have an express duty to provide every person granted access to the workplace with prescribed safety materials, equipment, devices and clothing. Employees have a corresponding duty to use any safety equipment and clothing that are intended for the employee’s protection and furnished by the employer.
The Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations stipulate protective headwear and footwear and other protective equipment such as eye protection, respiratory protection, fall protection, skin protection and protection from drowning must be “provided by the employer.”
As in Ontario, the Canada Labour Code does not expressly prohibit employers from requiring employees to bear business costs, but it does severely limit the circumstances in which an employer can deduct from an employee’s wages amounts for damage or lost property and lost money.
In contrast to the express requirement in British Columbia and the implied requirement in Ontario and the Federal legislative schemes, in Alberta, the Occupational Health and Safety Code simply states the employer must ensure workers wear certain protective equipment.
Whether or not the employer must provide protective equipment at no cost to employees will depend on the wording of applicable occupational health and safety requirements and employment standards legislation in the employer’s jurisdiction.
Colin G.M. Gibson is a partner with Harris & Company in Vancouver. He can be reached at (604) 891-2212or [email protected]