Refusal to Return to Work

If an employee refuses to return to work

The Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act gives employees obligations and rights associated with working safely. Supervisors are required to assess hazards in the worksite and control hazards to protect workers. Employees are obligated to identify hazards to supervisors so that they are known and can be understood and controlled.

These proactive, normal OHS processes are required to be followed during the return to on-campus work. Supervisors need to be open to discussing where hazards exist in the workplace and collaboratively make work safe. This collaborative approach is a part of dealing with a health and safety concern, a report of a hazard or step one in a work refusal.  

Follow these steps in order, and only proceed to the next step if a resolution cannot be reached.


Step 1: Do a final check-in with the employee before assuming you have a work refusal

At this step, you can still work collaboratively with the employee to reach a solution:

  • Is this a health and safety concern or report of a hazard? If so, work collaboratively with the employee to address the concern or hazard. 
  • Is this Step One of a Work Refusal? Confirm if the worker is refusing to do unsafe work because they have reasonable grounds to believe there's a danger to their health and safety. Clarify the reasonable grounds (the why) and the nature of the danger (how this hazard is different from the normal hazards of the job).

NOTE: Health and safety issues associated with personal travel to campus before or after work time are NOT the responsibility of the university. Supervisors may wish to offer some helpful advice to support their employees. 

If a solution cannot be reached and the employee continues to refuse to return to work, move to Step 2.

Step 2: Contact Environment, Health & Safety for support

  • Contact Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) at ehs.info@ualberta.ca using “Work Refusal Support Needed” in the subject line to arrange for a member of the Joint Work Site Health and Safety Committee (JWSHSC) to conduct an inspection of the worksite or investigation of the refusal. 

  • The inspection/investigation may result in a better understanding of the concern and what steps could be taken to resolve it. 

  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the inspection/investigation may be done virtually. 

If a solution cannot be reached and the employee continues to refuse to return to work, move to Step 3.

Step 3: Referral to Alberta Labour and Immigration Occupational Health and Safety 

Refusals to work that are not resolved through consultation with the JWSHSC can be referred to Alberta Labour and Immigration Occupational Health and Safety (ABLI-OHS).  

  • EHS will contact ABLI-OHS to arrange an inspection/investigation.
  • ABLI-OHS will inspect/investigate and make a determination in support of the work refusal or ordering the employee back to work.

Other Considerations

EHS will help supervisors and workers through this process and will liaise with the JWSHSC and ABLI-OHS as needed. During the refusal to work period, the supervisor and the worker will need to be available and actively participate in the process.

  • Employees have a right to be paid during the investigation of a work refusal and are not to be disciplined for exercising a right or responsibility under the OHS Act.
  • Employees may be assigned reasonable alternate work and other workers can be asked to perform the work (with some conditions). Consult with EHS before making any decision on alternate work or workers.
  • Work refusals involving ABLI-OHS may result in compliance orders to the university and the work unit. Everyone involved must take active steps to comply with those orders.
  • Supervisors should ensure that any work refusal is appropriately documented using the Work Refusal Record
For more information contact ehs.info@ualberta.ca.