Punished for speaking up about working conditions? COVID-19 and Reprisal Law 
December 21, 2020 Read Time: 2 minutes
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Earlier this year, a successful reprisal case made headlines after a migrant farm worker was fired for speaking up about COVID-19 safety precautions in the workplace. Gabriel Flores was terminated after he raised concerns about poor living and working conditions at the Ontario farm at which he works, where 199 of his fellow workers had tested positive for the coronavirus. 

What is reprisal law? 

In the context of employment law, reprisal refers to an employee being punished or threatened with punishment for doing something that is within their rights under the following acts: 

These acts are designed to protect employees and lay out the rights and responsibilities of both employees and employers in Ontario workplaces. 

While reprisal issues can arise from any situation in which an employee is punished for exercising their rights, the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on workplace health and safety.

Know your rights 

In the context of workplace health and safety, if you feel your workplace is unsafe and raise concerns, you employer is not allowed to: 

  • fire or threaten to fire you 
  • suspend or discipline you, or threaten to do so 
  • intimidate or bully you 
  • penalize you 

if you have: 

  • acted on any of your rights under the OHSA (for example, refusing to perform work you believe is unsafe) 
  • followed or asked your employer to follow health and safety laws 
  • given information to a Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development inspector  
  • testified at any type of hearing about occupational health and safety  

There’s no doubt the pandemic has created unprecedented times for both employers and employees. Employers are having to adapt quickly to implement new safety measures and personal protection equipment. But ultimately, employers are responsible to provide a safe workplace for employees and are not allowed to penalize workers for raising concerns.    

If you are penalized or for raising health and safety concerns, you also have the potential remedy of being given your former position back. 

If you have questions about reprisals, or any other employment law issue, we are to help. 

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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