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.
Workers in the Yukon also can refuse to work when the work causes an amount of pollution or level of environmental damage that's illegal under Yukon's Environment Act and the Act's regulations. The Environment Act explains this. To learn more about the Act, see the box on this page.
Do all workers have the right to refuse to pollute? Yes, all workers can refuse to pollute, according to CEPA and Yukon's Environment Act.
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.
Workplace pollution that's not illegal according to CEPA, but environmentally damaging all the same, can be reported by workers to the Yukon government. According to the territory's Environment Act, a worker can report workplace environmental damage to the Yukon government and "whistle blower protection" secures the worker from being fired. Whistle blower protection, though, does not secure the worker from being fired if the worker reports the employer to the media or to the public.
For reporting the employer to the government in order to protect the environment or the public, the worker cannot legally be fired, disciplined or intimidated. Nor can the employer fire, discipline or intimidate the worker if the worker only suggests that she or he will make a report.
With whistle blower protection, the worker can make a report to the government when there is workplace environmental damage, or when it's possible that there is workplace environmental damage.
Can I report environmental damage or illegal workplace pollution when my contract states that I have to keep workplace information confidential? If a worker's contract states that the worker cannot report what happens at her or his workplace because of reasons of "confidentiality", the worker still can report workplace environmental damage to the Yukon government, according to Yukon's Environment Act. In other words, the employer cannot fire a worker who reports workplace environmental damage to the Yukon government, though the worker might be breaking her or his contract.
But it's not clear whether a worker could 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 pollute at work, or for reporting environmental damage, or for reporting illegal workplace pollution? It is the case that employers do fire, discipline or harass workers who refuses 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.
For a worker belonging to a union, a grievance procedure might be used if the worker's fired, disciplined or harassed for refusing to pollute, for making a report to the CEPA inspector.
The laws in CEPA and in Yukon's Environmental Act are different. If an employer is found guilty of firing, disciplining or intimidating a worker because the worker has refused to pollute when it's against Yukon's Act, or because the worker has reported to the Yukon government workplace environmental damage, then the employer has to make some changes. According to the Environment Act, the employer has to stop intimidating or disciplining the worker, has to rehire a fired worker and pay the worker her or his lost wages and benefits.