How to say no at work

How to say no at work

You can’t be fired for telling your boss you think a job is unsafe.

As a worker, it’s your responsibility to point out health and safety concerns. And it’s your right to be heard. Employers want to keep their workers safe and healthy, and appreciate suggestions. It can also be a great way to gain the respect of your boss.

This means your employer can’t lay you off, fire you or otherwise discipline you because you refuse to do, or report, dangerous work.

If you do get laid off, fired or disciplined for these reasons, contact OHS and an OHS Officer will look into the situation.

Learn more about refusing or reporting unsafe work.

If you have to quit

If you can’t work things out with your boss, you may decide to quit; your life is more important than any job. If you have questions, contact OHS at 1-866-415-8690.

How to talk to your boss

To bring up health and safety concerns with your boss:

  • you may want to first ask the advice of a trusted co-worker; then, try to work things out with your direct supervisor
  • only speak with their boss if your supervisor doesn’t deal with your concerns; don’t go over their head first
  • when you approach your supervisor, a respectful and positive attitude can be a big asset

If your employer still insists that you do unsafe work, here are some examples of what you can say:

Example 1:

Your job requires you to drive on occasion and you are provided with a car to use when needed. The automatic car you usually drive is in the shop and you are asked to make a delivery driving a standard. You have never driven a standard before and would not feel confident driving one. What would you say?

Wrong thing to say: Ok, I guess I can teach myself to drive a standard.
Right thing to say: I don’t feel confident driving a standard. If you need me to drive, please provide me with an automatic car. If you send me to a training course on how to drive a standard, then I would be happy to drive a standard.

Example 2:

You just started working for a lawn care company and you are required to spray chemicals on weeds. The site you are sent to has weeds almost as tall as you and it is a very windy day. When you start spraying the chemicals, the wind blows them into your face. Your supervisor phones you to ask how the work is going. What would you say?

Wrong thing to say: Everything is going great. I will get to the next site by coffee break.
Right thing to say: This site has very high weeds and when I spray them, the chemicals blow into my face. I don’t want to get sick from the chemicals. I'd like to wear the right personal protection equipment.

Example 3:

You work at a store where a light bulb has just burnt out. Your boss asks you or your co-worker to climb up a ladder to change the light bulb. The ladder provided is not quite high enough to reach and is very unsteady. The floor under the light bulb is slightly sloped. Your co-worker refuses to climb the ladder because they feel it is unsafe. Your boss turns to you and says, “I’m counting on you.” What would you say?

Wrong thing to say: Sure, no problem. I will change the light bulb. (As you silently think to yourself, “I hope I don't fall. That’ll hurt.”)
Right thing to say: I don’t want to take a chance and fall. We should find a better ladder before the light bulb is replaced.

Example 4:

You work at a store stocking shelves and you are asked to lift heavy boxes of televisions onto shelves. You were supposed to have someone to help you but they called in sick that day. Your supervisor says, “I know you are a strong person. You’ll be o.k. to lift those by yourself won’t you?” What do you say?

Wrong thing to say: Yep, no worries. (As you mumble to yourself, “my back won’t be ok though).”
Right thing to say: Actually, I think that it would be hard on my back and I need another person to help me. I can’t do it by myself.

You can’t be fired!

Wait a minute. If I tell my boss I think a job is unsafe, I'll get fired. Right?

Wrong! That would be illegal.

Each Canadian province has a law to help keep work sites safe and healthy. In Alberta, it’s called the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, Regulation and Code.

You can’t be disciplined or fired for following the rules of the OHS Act, Regulation or the Code. Your employer may not lay you off or fire you because you refuse to do dangerous work. If this does happen to you, contact OHS.

Tough choices

If you’ve tried to work things out with your boss and it’s not going great, you may decide to quit your job. Your life is more important than any job. If you have questions, contact OHS.

Modified: 2017-07-14
PID: 3097

Contact OHS

1-866-415-8690 (toll-free)
780-415-8690 (Edmonton)

TTY: 780-427-9999 (Edmonton)
TTY: 1-800-232-7215

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