Division director’s decision not absolute

Investigation of a safety complaint is automatic
|Canadian Employment Law Today

Lois Gillis was a teacher employed by the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board. In late 1999 Ms. Gillis began experiencing health problems which she attributed to her workplace, specifically to noxious fumes in the school. She left work several times in November 1999 as a result. She raised concerns with the school board’s joint occupational health and safety committee (JOHS committee) and with the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Department of Labour (the “division”).

Under section 43(1) of the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act, an employee has the right to refuse to work where the employee has reasonable grounds for believing that it is likely to endanger the employee’s health or safety. This right exists until the employer has taken remedial action or the JOHS committee has investigated the matter and unanimously advised the employee to return to work or the director or an officer in the division has investigated the matter and advised the employee to return to work.

On Dec. 15, 1999, Ms. Gillis left the school, claiming the right to refuse to work under section 43 of the Act. She reported her work refusal to her supervisor and the reasons for it. On Dec. 22, 1999, the JOHS committee met to discuss Ms. Gillis’ concern. The JOHS committee agreed that she could not safely return to work at the school and that there was no location in the school appropriate for her health and safety. The employer’s position was that its actions to date had remedied the situation, resulting in a deadlock between the parties.