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 New Brunswick can refuse to pollute when she or he believes that the 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 inspectors. 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.
The New Brunswick Employment Standards Act offers New Brunswick workers in both the private and public sectors additional whistle blower protection. When it seems like a federal or provincial environmental law is being broken in the workplace, a worker cannot be fired for giving this information to a government official. CEPA is one of the federal environmental laws, and a CEPA inspector can be contacted when it seems like CEPA is not being followed.
Also, the Enforcement Branch of New Brunswick's Department of Environment and Local Government can be contacted when provincial environmental laws are not being followed. Whistle blower protection makes it illegal to fire, discipline or discriminate against a worker who passes information to a government official. It is not clear, though, whether New Brunswick's Employment Standards Act protects workers from being fired, disciplined or discriminated against when the worker passes information on what might be illegal environmental workplace practises to the media or to others outside the government.
Can I give information to the provincial environment department, or make a report to the CEPA inspector when my contract states that I have to keep workplace information confidential? When a worker's contract states that she or he has to keep workplace information confidential, it's not clear whether the worker would be fired for giving information to the provincial Department of the Environment's Enforcement Branch. Nor is it clear whether the worker would be fired for reporting workplace pollution to a CEPA inspector.
A worker belonging to a union can speak about the workplace agreement's confidentiality clause with her or his union steward.
What happens if I'm fired for refusing to pollute, or for making a report to the CEPA inspector, or for giving information to the provincial environment department? 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 the 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.
And sometimes employers do act illegally when a worker gives information on environmental workplace practises to the province's Department of Environment. But, like with CEPA, it is unclear in the New Brunswick Employment Standards Act how the employer can be stopped from firing, disciplining or discriminating against a whistle blowing worker.
For a worker belonging to a union, a grievance procedure might be used if the worker's fired, disciplined, or discriminated against for refusing to pollute or for reporting what might be illegal environmental workplace practises.