Health and Safety at Work: The Rights of Employees

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This article explains how workers are protected in case of accidents at work or illnesses caused by something in the workplace.

Who can claim compensation for an accident or illness at work?

Compensation means money given to a worker due to an accident or illness in the workplace.

In Quebec, most workers are automatically part of a public insurance plan that gives compensation for accidents and illnesses in the workplace (Web page in French only). It is the employer that pays for the insurance.This plan covers both full and part-time workers. It also covers people doing internships, whether they are paid or not.

But some workers must register with the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) to be insured (Web page in French only). This includes domestic workers, self-employed workers and employers. These workers must also pay to belong to the plan.

A domestic worker is someone who does housework in someone's home, or a live-in caretaker for a child, or for a sick, disabled or elderly person.

On my way back from lunch, I twisted my ankle climbing the stairs in my employer's building. Is this a workplace accident?

It depends. In general, it is a workplace accident or injury in these cases:

  • The event must be "accidental", which means it happened suddenly and unpredictably.
  • The event must be directly related to your work activities, or it must have happened while you were under the supervision or control of the employer.
  • The event must have been the cause of the injury or illness.

Let's look at an example. Mila and her co-workers take their coffee break in the cafeteria. They stay "on call" during this break in case their employer needs them, and they cannot leave without permission. Mila twists her ankle on her way up the stairs after her coffee break. Even though she wasn't injured doing a work task, Mila might still be able to receive compensation. This is because she was under the supervision of her employer at the time of the injury. Mila calls the CNESST to find out what she can do.

Remember that the employer might disagree with the facts surrounding the injury. Mila's boss could say employees are not on call during the break, for example. If the employer claims this, it is up to Mila to prove her version of the story.

Two weeks after I was appointed safety representative by my company's health and safety committee, my employer suspended me. What can I do?

Your employer cannot fire, suspend or treat you differently for performing your duties as the safety representative. If this happens, you can file a complaint under your union agreement (if you are unionized) or with the CNESST within 30 days.

An employer who acts this way might have to pay a fine.

My employer did not provide proper safety equipment and I was injured at work. Can I sue my employer?

No. To be compensated, you have to go through the CNESST (Web page in French only). If your claim is valid, the CNESST will compensate you, whether your employer was at fault or not. This "no-fault" system is similar to the one for automobile insurance in Quebec. See this booklet to learn how to make a claim.

If I disagree with a CNESST decision regarding my case, what can I do?

You can challenge it by applying for a review of the decision. You can file your request for a review at the CNESST office in your region. You have 30 days from the time you receive the decision to ask for the review and make your arguments.

In some cases, the time limit for review is shorter. If the decision you want to challenge was made as a result of an inspection, if it involved the exercise of the right to refuse unsafe work or the reassignment of a pregnant or nursing mother for health reasons, the time limit is 10 days.

The CNESST makes a second decision after the review. If you are dissatisfied with the second decision, you can, within 45 days, ask the Tribunal administratif du travail (TAT or Administrative Labour Tribunal) to change it.

My employer asked me not to give an investigator files relevant to an investigation. Can legal action be taken against me?

The law obliges you to hand over any information the CNESST inspector needs for an investigation.

If you hide information, you can be penalized.

However, if you show that you hid the information against your will as a result of directions from your employer, it is possible you will not be held responsible.

I gave my employer a medical certificate confirming that I had a workplace accident. Can he challenge it?

Yes. Your employer can ask you to have additional medical exams by a doctor she chooses. Your employer must give you the reasons for requesting additional exams and must pay any costs. If the second diagnosis is different from your own doctor's findings, your employer can then challenge your doctor's conclusions.

I was involved in a workplace accident. What are my employer's obligations?

First of all, your employer must make sure that a minimum number of qualified first-aid workers are present all the times during working hours. Your employer must also pay for the first aid training. Therefore, someone at work must be able to give you first aid.

If necessary, your employer must take you (or have someone else take you) to the hospital or your home, and pay for any travel costs. Your employer must pay you your complete salary for the day of the accident, and for 14 days afterward, must pay you 90% of your net salary (salary after deductions).

I was involved in a workplace accident because the person supervising did not take proper precautions. What penalties could this person face?

If you or someone else make a formal complaint, the person could face criminal charges.

Any person who supervises a job or task must take measures to avoid injuries. If she does not do this, and demonstrates a high level of carelessness, she could be charged with a crime.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.