Employment Law

Can my employer in Ontario force me to work if it’s too hot?

Ontario – and much of Canada – has seen record temperatures lately, and employees might be wondering what protection they have when working outside during extended heatwaves.

In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), which outlines the general responsibilities of employers to protect workers against hazards on the job, does not set maximum temperate limits for employees working in outside workplaces.

This presents a gap in providing protection to workers.

Extreme heat can become a legitimate workplace safety issue. Symptoms of heat stroke can present itself through milder symptoms.

But it can also have more serious impacts and lead to heat stress. Heat stress may cause serious illnesses such as heat rashes, fainting, heat stroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion.

Can employers in Alberta force staff to work if it’s too hot?
Employee rights when working in heat in B.C.

What protection does the law provide when working extreme heat?

Ontario legislation does not specifically set a maximum temperature limit. But there is still a duty that employers have to take “every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker”.

This means that employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace, take measures and develop policies and procedures in order to protect workers.

The Ministry of Labour recommends employers use a hot weather plan between May 1 and September 30 of each year to minimize the impact of high temperatures in the workplace.

The hot weather plan should be followed when any of the conditions mentioned below apply:

  • humidex reaches or exceeds 35
  • Environment Canada Humidex Advisory (air temperature exceeds 30°C and humidex exceeds 40)
  • heat waves that last three or more consecutive days with temperatures over 32°C
  • a smog alert has been issued by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks

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What type of measures can my employer take to prevent heat stress?

The Ministry of Labour guidelines state that employers should implement programs that recognize the symptoms and prevent heat related illness, provide a water supply plan encouraging hydration and adequate supply of cool drinking water, and a well-thought-out emergency response plan.

Employers may do this by increasing the frequency and length of breaks, reducing workload and heat exposure, avoiding work in direct sunlight, scheduling heavy work for cooler parts of the day, providing cool rest spaces, encouraging frequent hydration, and checking on coworkers for any irregular behaviour.

What can employees do if their employers are not providing a safe workplace?

The lack of legislation means that employers may not take their duty to provide a safe workplace as seriously as they should when it comes to heat stress.

If your employer has not implemented proper heat stress controls, speak to them so they can implement mechanisms and practices to combat heat stress.

If they refuse to implement or follow their own heat stress policies, you may file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour.

Can I refuse to work if it’s too hot?

Under the OHSA, workers have a right to refuse work that they believe is unsafe.

If any of the weather conditions mentioned apply, and your workplace is not following or has not set up proper heat stress and monitoring policy, you can exercise your right to refuse unsafe work. Here are the steps you should follow:

1. Raise concerns with your supervisor

Inform them of the reason you are refusing work (it’s too hot to safely perform your duties). If the reason behind your protest is legitimate, your employer should respond to your concerns and make proper accommodations.

2. Escalate the issue

If the previous step is not effective, you can escalate the issue and call the Ministry of Labour.

Your employer will not be able to terminate you for cause because you are exercising your rights.

If you are terminated, fired or laid off, make sure you speak to an employment lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP to ensure your rights are enforced and that you receive the severance package the company owes you.

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