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Environmental Rights

British Columbia

Workers' Environmental Rights

Do I have the right to refuse to pollute? A worker can refuse to work when she or he believes that the work does not meet the laws under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). CEPA explains this. CEPA is a federal law which has to be followed in every province and territory. To learn more about the environmental laws under CEPA, see the box on this page.

Among the provinces and territories, only in the Yukon does a worker's right to refuse to pollute go beyond the right defined in CEPA.

Do all workers have the right to refuse to pollute?

Yes. Any worker in BC can refuse to pollute when the worker believes her or his work does not meet CEPA's environmental protection laws.

Do I have the right to report workplace pollution?

When a worker reports to a CEPA inspector workplace pollution that the worker believes is illegal under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), CEPA is meant to secure the worker from being fired with "whistle blower protection". First, when a worker makes a report, she or he can ask that her or his name not be revealed. Second, it's illegal for the employer to fire, discipline or harass a worker who reports the employer to CEPA Offices. CEPA's whistle blower protection, it should be noted, offers no security to the worker if the worker reports the employer to the media or to the public.

For public and private sector forest workers, there is additional whistle blower protection. The Forest Practices Code of BC Act protects a worker from discrimination, intimidation and suspension when the worker makes a complaint against the employer for not following the Act. Whistle blower protection offers the worker security if the complaint is made to the Forest Practices Board, but not if the complaint is made to the media or to the public.

Can I report illegal workplace pollution when my contract states that I have to keep workplace information confidential?

It's not clear whether a worker can legally be fired for reporting workplace pollution that's illegal under CEPA or the Forest Practices Code of BC Act when the worker's contract states that she or he has to keep workplace information confidential.

A worker belonging to a union can speak about the collective agreement's confidentiality clause with her or his union steward.

What happens if I'm fired for refusing to pollute at work, or for making a report to a CEPA inspector, or for making a complaint to the Forest Practices Board?

It is the case that employers do fire, discipline or harass workers who refuse to pollute, or who report illegal workplace pollution. It's against the law, though, for an employer to do so, according to Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) when the pollution is illegal under the Act. However, it is unclear in CEPA how the employer can be stopped from disciplining or harassing a worker, or how the employer can be made to rehire a fired worker when the employer has acted illegally.

The Forest Practices Code of BC Act also states that it's illegal for an employer to suspend, intimidate or discriminate against a worker who makes a complaint to the Forest Practices Board when the workplace does not follow the Act. But, like with CEPA, it is unclear in the Forest Practices Code of BC Act how the employer can be stopped from acting against the worker illegally.

For a worker belonging to a union, a grievance procedure might be used if the worker's fired, disciplined, intimidated or discriminated against for refusing to pollute, for reporting illegal workplace pollution, or for reporting illegal forest practices.

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