Teachers’ union fighting for right to refuse work due where students violent

A student’s violent acts in a classroom have led to a dispute about the circumstances in which teachers may engage in a work refusal for safety reasons.

The student was described as having a “history of violent behavior”.  He became violent one morning by hitting and pushing staff and other students and kicking chairs.  The student was sent home, but when he returned to class, the teacher said that she did not feel safe and she was removed from the classroom.  Apparently a Ministry of Labour inspector was called in and decided not to make an order respecting the teacher’s alleged work refusal.   The union challenged that decision before the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The inspector asked the OLRB to dismiss the case based on oral submissions.

The inspector relied on section 3. 3 of Regulation 857 (“Teachers) under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act which provides that the work refusal provisions of the OHSA do not apply to “a teacher where the circumstances are such that the life, health or safety of a pupil is in imminent jeopardy.” The inspector argued that, therefore, a teacher may refuse to work only where he or she has reason to believe that workplace violence is likely to endanger himself or herself, but that if the violence is caused by a student, there would invariably be a risk to other students and therefore the teacher would have no right to refuse to work.

The OLRB held that it required further evidence before making a decision on the case.  In particular, the OLRB required evidence of whether a student was “in imminent jeopardy”, which could not be determined without a full hearing.  The OLRB decided to send the case to a full hearing.

Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers / Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association v. Toronto Catholic District School Board, 2016 CanLII 6786 (ON LRB)

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Adrian Miedema

About Adrian Miedema

Adrian is a partner in the Toronto Employment group of Dentons Canada LLP. He advises and represents public- and private-sector employers in employment, health and safety and human rights matters. He appears before employment tribunals and all levels of the Ontario courts on behalf of employers. He also advises employers on strategic and risk management considerations in employment policy and contracts.

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