'When the requirements are not met, the issue will be treated as a complaint'
Despite receiving almost 300 work refusal notices during the pandemic, Ontario has only upheld one related to COVID-19 and the investigation is ongoing, according to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.
This follows complaints by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) that the ministry has not been doing its job of protecting workers amid the pandemic.
The ministry received 172 work refusal notices in March, 65 in April and 29 in May, based on data extracted on June 11.
“When a worker refuses work, employers are required to conduct an investigation and try to resolve the issue internally. Often, these concerns can be dealt with to the satisfaction of both the worker and employer without orders being issued,” says Janet Deline, media spokesperson for the ministry. “If there is no resolution, they must notify the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and an inspector will follow up in consultation with the employer and the worker.”
When it comes to proactive field visits related to COVID-19, there were 1,801 in April and 2,088 in May. The ministry has also issued 23 stop-work orders related to COVID-19.
Safety complaints slowly decline
Ontario also saw 1,585 safety complaints related to COVID-19 in March, 1,937 complaints in April and 1,097 in May. That was up from just 14 in February, according to the ministry. In 2019, the average number of overall complaints per month received by the ministry was 1,126.
“For workers to initiate a formal work refusal, the danger must be based on current conditions they’re exposed to. When the requirements for a work refusal are not met, the issue will be treated as a complaint,” says Deline.
Some workers also have a limited right to refuse work because their refusal directly endangers the life, health or safety of another person. Work refusal among these workers would be investigated as a complaint, she says.
The OFL has also voiced concern about Ontario’s changes to employment standards legislation around temporary layoffs.