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 Nunavut can refuse to pollute when the worker believes her or his work doesn't 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.
In addition, the release or the likely release of contaminants into the environment can be reported to Nunavut's Department of Sustainable Development. The report must be made by at least two residents of Nunavut who are 19 years or older. When the report is made, "whistle blower protection" secures the workers from being fired. In other words, the employer cannot legally fire, discipline or intimidate workers for making a report to the government. Nunavut's Environmental Rights Act explains this.
Nunavut's Environmental Rights Act defines a contaminant as "any solid, liquid, gas, odour, heat, sound or vibration" that harms people or damages the environment, including plants and animals. See the sidebar for more details.
Whistle blower protection, though, does not secure workers from being fired if the workers report the release of workplace contaminants to the media or to the public. Nor does whistle blower protection secure a worker from being fired when a report is made to the government in order to intimidate or embarrass the employer.
Can I report workplace pollution when my contract states that I have to keep workplace information confidential? It is not clear in the Environmental Rights Act whether it is legal for a worker to report the release of workplace contaminants when the worker's contract states she or he has to keep workplace information confidential.
It's not clear, either, whether a worker can legally be fired for reporting workplace pollution that's illegal under CEPA 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 work, or for reporting the release of workplace pollution? 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.
It may be found in court that an employer has acted illegally against a worker who has made a report to Nunavut's Department of Sustainable Development. If this is the case, and an employer is found by a judge to have illegally fired, disciplined or intimidated a worker because the worker has made a report, or because the worker has suggested a report will be made, then the employer may have to rehire the worker. It is not the case, though, that the employer must rehire the worker. Not unless the judge, after finding the employer guilty, orders a rehiring.
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 making a report on the release of workplace contaminants.