Can you refuse work if the work is offensive?

A recent human rights complaint filed against Canada Post claims the publication is “misogynist, racist, anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and homophobic.”
A recent human rights complaint filed against Canada Post claims the publication is “misogynist, racist, anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and homophobic.” (Photo: iStock)

Can a worker refuse work if the work he or she is asked to do personally offends them?

A recent human rights complaint and union grievance is looking at this issue.

In March 2015, The Toronto Sun reported that one Jewish Canada Post worker didn’t want to deliver a publication called Your Ward News, because it was offensive to him on religious grounds but Canada Post determined that the paper did not meet the standard for “non-mailable matter” and decided that workers would have to deliver the paper.

A recent human rights complaint filed against Canada Post claims the publication, which is delivered in the Beaches and East York area of Toronto, is “misogynist, racist, anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and homophobic.”

Apparently, the worker was initially threatened with discipline for refusing to deliver the paper but once his union intervened, he was asked to only deliver a portion of the paper. He was not the only postal worker complaining about having to deliver the publication. His union has also filed a grievance with Canada Post this month for forcing postal workers to deliver the publication.

A grievance means that the employer is claimed to have violated the collective agreement which will likely result in arbitration between the employer and the workers.

This raises the question, what are workers’ rights to refuse work if the work offends them?

According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, “Federal employers and service providers, as well as employers and service providers of private companies that are regulated by the federal government, cannot discriminate against individuals for these reasons [grounds of discrimination].”

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, there are 11 grounds, some of which include race, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation and more.

Federal employers, like Canada Post, have to make “every effort to accommodate an employee’s individual circumstances that relate to protected grounds of discrimination.” Meaning employers have a duty to accommodate their workers at the workplace, which should include a refusal to work based on belief.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario, a worker has the right to refuse work where it is physically unsafe for him/her or someone else but it’s less clear in a human rights context.

See: When can an employee refuse work?

In the case of the Canada Post workers, we’ll have to wait and see whether the grievance process and/or human rights complaint will decide whether the postal workers have the right to refuse to deliver the publication.

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