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Scorecard: Work Refusals for Fear of Getting an Infectious Illness

The OHS laws clearly allow employees to refuse work when they have “reasonable” cause to fear serious injury or illness to themselves and/or others. So, don’t be surprised if one of your employees engages in a work refusal out of fear of catching coronavirus from a co-worker, client or member of the public. While it might seem overly dramatic, such a refusal may be justified, especially if the individual to which the employee is exposed has recently traveled to Wuhan, China, or another high-risk area. Although no coronavirus refusal cases have yet been reported, there have been at least 8 work refusal cases involving other infectious illnesses from previous outbreaks, including SARS, Ebola and Hepatitis B. The Scorecard below summarizes how each of these cases turned out.

SCORECARD: INFECTIOUS ILLNESS WORK REFUSAL CASES
CASE GROUNDS FOR REFUSING OUTCOME EXPLANATION
Caverly v. Canada (HRSD) HRSD worker fears getting SARS from immigrants Refusal Invalid Worker not exposed to infection risk, but HRSD should have done a better job of addressing concerns
Chapman v. Canada (Customs and Revenue Agency) Customs agent fears getting SARS from new Asian immigrants Refusal Invalid Custom agents don’t encounter individuals with SARS; even if they did, they can’t get it from proximity to infected individuals
Cole v. Air Canada Air Canada ticket agents fear getting SARS from Asian passengers Refusal Invalid Medical evidence shows SARS isn’t transmitted by proximity to infected individuals; airline adequately addressed SARS concerns
Hogue-Burzynski v. VIA Rail Canada Railroad crew members fear getting intestinal virus from sick passengers on previous trip Refusal Invalid Railway took steps to minimize risk and workers had to accept that risk as part of their job
Swan River Valley Hospital (Re) Hospital workers fear getting Hepatitis B Refusal Invalid Not reasonable to require hospital to vaccinate all workers, especially when they didn’t demand vaccination in collective bargaining
Walton v. Treasury Board Prison guard fears getting Hepatitis B from inmates Refusal Valid Fear of being doused with waste bucket is reasonable given that Hepatitis B is spread via contact with feces, urine and semen
Unreported Quebec paramedics fear getting Ebola from patients Refusal Valid Employer didn’t have ample infection control measures in place
Unreported Ontario paramedics fear getting Ebola from patients Refusal Invalid Risk of paramedics actually being exposed only hypothetical