COVID-19 and Your Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

Faced with an alarming third wave of Covid cases, last week ETT President Jennifer Brown joined with the Presidents of the other Toronto Education Affiliates to demand a pivot to online learning following the Easter weekend. Again this weekend, Jennifer Brown wrote the Director of Education to heed the advice of the medical community and close schools with a pivot to virtual learning immediately.

Teaching/learning remotely from home is challenging, especially for ETT Members who have their own children learning from home. That said, no one should have to work in a brick and mortar school and end up sick because of the negligence of this government.

If our call for a temporary pivot to online learning falls on deaf ears, ETT Members are reminded that they have a statutory right to refuse unsafe work that is enshrined in section 43 and section 857 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

A work refusal is not something the union can direct or suggest Members to undertake as a collective action, but must be done by individual workers based on whether the worker believes that, for example, the COVID-19 protocols in your school are creating an unsafe working environment. ETT Members are reminded that, in the event of a work refusal, they have a responsibility to ensure they that students in their care are safe and appropriately supervised at all times.

You do not have to prove your work is unsafe – you only need a “reason to believe” it is unsafe

Members who wish to avail themselves of the right to refuse unsafe work must ensure that they contact their ETT Health and Safety Inspector and Executive Officer and must ensure that they provide the principal with sufficient notice so as to ensure that arrangements can be made for the safe supervision of students.

To identify your Health and Safety Officer, please click on the link below:

Find your EO

ETT Members are reminded that the employer is expressly prohibited from penalizing, dismissing, disciplining, suspending, or threatening workers who have obeyed or sought the enforcement of the OHSA including exercising the right to refuse unsafe work pursuant to section 43


“You do not have to prove your work is unsafe – you only need a “reason to believe” it is unsafe”

Examples of some questions to consider when assessing whether or not you feel safe:

Do your classroom windows open? Are they open and kept open?

Have you asked to switch to a classroom where the windows do open, and had that request denied?

Does your school have windows in the hallways and stairwells? Do they open? Are they open and kept open?

Are ventilation systems running 24h/day? Is your ventilation system purged before and after school? If you don’t know, ask your principal to ask the Head Caretaker. .

Have portable HEPA filter machines been deployed to your classroom?

Do the masks provided by the employer fit you, snugly, without gaps, per TPH recommendation? Has the employer provided you with information about how to ensure your ill-fitting mask can be made to fit snugly? Are there mask clips available? Are instructions about how to create a snug fit posted where you obtain your masks at work?

Do the masks provided by the employer contain graphene or biomass graphene? If you aren’t sure, ask your principal, if they don’t know, that may be reason enough for you to ask for an investigation, depending on whether or not you believe you are safe.

Has your Principal issued you face shields? If so, are they functional, i.e. do not fog up? Or do they fog up, catching droplets and aerosols on the inside of the surface?

Are your students still allowed to wear home made masks (scarves, pieces of cloth), or are they required to wear certified medical grade masks?

Do your students keep their masks on at all times?

Are there any issues at your worksite with the enforcement of mask wearing?

At any time, are you required to be in your classroom while students have their masks off for any reason, eg nutrition, mask break?

Are you required to teach in a classroom that was used as a nutrition break room for maskless students without sufficient time for that classroom to be properly ventilated and sanitised?

Are rooms for nutrition breaks set up so that there is at least 2 metres/6 feet between students?

Do you have students in your class who have an accommodation allowing them not to wear a mask? If so, has management ensured you have the ability to maintain at least 2 metres/6 feet distance from that student? Do you feel there are adequate health and safety protections in place for you including rigorous adherence to screening requirements for these students, additional ventilation measures, and additional appropriate PPE?

Do you have concerns about the ability to maintain at least 2 metres/6 feet physical distance/crowding in common areas such as during self-assessment verification screening, hallways, stairwells and other non-classroom spaces?

Are you concerned about non-compliance with physical distancing requirements in your classroom or in common areas of your school?

Is your Admin effectively managing students who refuse to comply with physical distancing protocols?

Are there any concerns with maintaining physical distancing between students and/or between students and yourself in your classroom?

Do you have regular and ongoing access to soap/hand sanitiser?


Please review the attached document for the procedure for work refusal.

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