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Changes to the Canada Labour Code: Work refusals and narrower definition of danger come into force

The federal government has fixed October 31, 2014, as the date that Division 5 of Part 3 of the Federal Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 2 (formerly Bill C-4) will come into force. Division 5 of Part 3 of the Act amends the Canada Labour Code (“Code”) and makes consequential amendments to other statutes to align them with these changes. In addition, the federal government has also registered supporting regulations to these amendments, Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Made Under the Canada Labour Code, which will come into force on October 31, 2014.

The amendments to the Code include:

  • A new statutory definition of “danger”: By clarifying the definition of “danger” employees and employers will be better able to deal with health and safety issues through the Internal Responsibility System. The definition of “danger” is to ensure that work refusals concern situations where an employee is faced with an imminent or serious threat to their life or health. Specifically, “danger” will now mean any hazard, condition or activity that could reasonably be expected to be an imminent or serious threat to the life or health of a person exposed to it before the hazard or condition can be corrected or the activity altered
  • Modifications to the work refusal process and the investigation of continuing work refusals: Employees would retain their fundamental right to refuse dangerous work, while at the same time ensuring that the work refusal process is balanced and clear. The new process would enhance the internal responsibility system and ensure that workplace parties assess and address occupational health and safety issues effectively, efficiently and in a collaborative manner. The burden of employees who wish to invoke a right of refusal will thereby be changed, given that the exercise of their right will depend on the presence of a situation that could reasonably result in an imminent or serious threat to their life or their health, as opposed to a reasonable and objective possibility that a risk will materialize
  • The transfer of investigation powers, duties and functions of a health and safety officer to the Minister of Labour: The changes will be removing all references to health and safety officers and regional health and safety officers, including their definitions, and provide the Minister of Labour with the powers, duties and functions previously conferred to these individuals. Going forwards, it will be a matter of an internal investigation between the employer and employee and if the internal investigation does not lead to a resolution of the complaint, it will be referred directly to the Minister of Labour

As a result, the Minister of Labour will have the authority under the Code to delegate, to any qualified person or class of persons, any of the powers, duties or functions that the Minister is authorized to exercise or perform under Part II of the Code.

By strengthening the internal responsibility system, the Government will be able to improve its focus on critical issues that affect the health and safety of Canadians in the workplace.

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Yosie Saint-Cyr

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 15 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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