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Can I be punished for complaining about safety issues at work?

Both the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the Canada Labour Code say that your employer can't punish you because you ask them to follow safety rules.

This applies if you complain to your employer about safety issues or ask them about your rights.

Your employer is also not allowed to punish you for talking to the government about the safety of your workplace. That means that you can't be punished for:

  • talking to an inspector from the Ministry of Labour
  • taking part in someone else's hearing at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB)
  • making a complaint to the Ministry of Labour or the OLRB
  • calling the police if you're in immediate danger

Sometimes it's hard to tell if your employer is punishing you. But if you've made a safety complaint, your employer can't use that as a reason to:

  • fire you
  • suspend you
  • discipline you
  • transfer you to another position
  • reduce your hours
  • not give you a raise or other benefits
  • harass or threaten you
  • intimidate or bully you

If your employer does any of those things, and you think it's because you made a safety complaint, your employer may be breaking the law. The legal term for this is unlawful reprisal.

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Next Steps: 

Gather evidence

If you think your employer is punishing you for making a safety complaint, the first thing to do is ask your employer for more information. You may want to get legal advice before you talk to them. See the Next Step below called Get legal help. 

You may find out that there's a different reason why your employer has changed your working conditions.

You may also get information that will help you if you make an application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB).

Keep track of any documents you have that could help you prove that your employer is punishing you. Keep them in a safe place because you may need them if you apply to the OLRB.

Here are some of the documents you might need:

  • pay stubs
  • letters from your employer
  • disciplinary letters
  • your employment contract
  • notes from meetings
  • notes from talking to other workers
  • written instructions you were given
  • safety materials you were given which are relevant to your issue

Make notes about conversations you've had. Keep track of dates when things happen.

You could also ask your Health and Safety Representative or Joint Health and Safety Committee for information about your problem. They have to keep records about safety tests, accidents, and Ministry of Labour orders in your workplace. They also have to keep notes about what they talk about in meetings. If they talked about your problem, they have to share those notes with a Ministry of Labour inspector.

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Talk to your union

If you have a union, you should tell them about your problem.

They may have more information about your employer's health and safety policies or similar issues in your workplace.

They may try to solve the problem with your employer.

And if you can't agree with your employer about how to solve the problem, your union may file a grievance with your employer or make an application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board

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Get legal help

If you don't have a union, you should try to get legal advice.

A lawyer with experience in employment law can help by giving you advice about:

  • whether your employer has punished you for making a safety complaint
  • whether you should make an application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB)
  • what other rights you may have

A lawyer can also help you to talk to your employer so they can make things right before you take other steps like going to the OLRB.

The Law Society Referral Service can give you the name of a lawyer or paralegal you can consult with for free, for up to 30 minutes.

JusticeNet is a program for Canadians with low or moderate incomes. It connects people with lawyers and paralegals who charge lower legal fees based on your income.

You could also contact the Workers' Health & Safety Legal Clinic, which helps people with low incomes who are having health and safety problems at work.

You can also contact the Office of the Worker Adviser at 1-855-659-7744.

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Ask the Ontario Labour Relations Board to hear your case

You can make an application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) if you think your employer is punishing you for making a safety complaint. 

This kind of application is sometimes called a "Section 50 complaint". This is because the rule which says your employer can't punish you for safety complaints is section 50 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

A Labour Relations Officer from the OLRB will try to help you and your employer come to an agreement. If you can't agree, the OLRB will schedule a consultation or hearing

You should try to get legal advice before you make an application to the OLRB.

The Law Society Referral Service can give you the name of a lawyer or paralegal you can consult with for free, for up to 30 minutes.

JusticeNet is a program for Canadians with low or moderate incomes. It connects people with lawyers and paralegals who charge lower legal fees based on your income.

You could also contact the Workers' Health & Safety Legal Clinic, which helps people with low incomes who are having health and safety problems at work.

If you've been injured or punished by your employer for complaining about harassment, you can also contact the Office of the Worker Adviser. They can give you information and legal advice if you don’t have a union.

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Reviewed: 
October, 2015

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