COVID-19 UPDATE March 17, 2020

Right to Refuse

CUPE has been receiving many questions from members who want to know how the current COVID-19 pandemic may affect their right to refuse. As a worker in Nova Scotia, you have the legal right to refuse unsafe work, according to Section 43 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the work condition, equipment, material, or any aspect of the work may be dangerous to you or another person’s health and safety.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your supervisor or employer at the worksite and state your reason for refusal.
  2. Where the matter is not remedied to the employee’s satisfaction, report it to your workplace health and safety committee or the worker health and safety representative.
  3. If you are not satisfied with the remedy, contact the Department of Labour and Advanced Education to speak with an officer about the refusal.
  4. The officer shall investigate the complaint, and document actions taken in a written report. A copy of the report must be provided to you.
  5. If you are not satisfied with the officer’s, you may appeal the report within 30 days, and request a review by the Labour Board.

You cannot be threatened or discriminated against through dismissal, reprimand or reduction of either wages or benefits for complying with the legislation, according to Section 45 of the Act.

How does COVID-19 affect the potential that an aspect of the work may be dangerous to the workers’ health and safety?

For employees who are not working with people who are ill or showing symptoms of illness (such as fever and a cough) COVID-19 is not a significant risk to a worker. While the risk to public health remains high, the risk to the health and safety of individual workers is not significantly impacted at this time. The ability to evoke your right to refuse is individual and based on your own assessment of the risk. Consider factors such as ability to maintain hand hygiene and a safe distance from anyone who is exhibiting symptoms.

How does COVID-19 affect the potential that an aspect of the work may be dangerous to the workers health and safety when working with people who are infected or showing symptoms of illness?

If you work in health care or any sector that brings you into contact with individuals who are ill or suspected to be ill, ensure you are familiar with your employer’s infection prevention and control procedures. If you lack the training, staffing levels, or personal protective equipment they call for to perform the tasks you have been assigned, please take those factors into consideration when evaluating the risks. As always, the determination that a situation is dangerous is an individual one and the role of your union is to ensure members are aware of their rights and the processes to follow.

It is also important to remember that the efforts to enhance health and safety in your workplace are always ongoing, and any situation that can affect the health and safety of any person in the workplace should be reported immediately to a supervisor.


The Provincial Government has announced the following protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • all non urgent procedures, services and clinics at the IWK and NSHA are postponed effective March 18
  • dialysis, cancer care, and emergency mental health care will continue
  • all elective surgeries and outpatient visits are cancelled
  • outpatient blood collection services will be reduced
  • NSHA and IWK will be setting aside newly vacated beds to create COVID units, to increase capacity.

IMPORTANT: all staff scheduled are to report to work as usual. If your site or service has been altered, you will be reassigned/redeployed ON ARRIVAL, not beforehand. You may be reassigned to a site you do not normally work at, but this will happen within the terms of your collective agreement

IMPORTANT REMINDER: If you’ve been out of the country and returned home on Friday March 13th or later you are required to self isolate for 14 days. you will be paid.