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What to do when an employee refuses to perform a job that might damage the environment

by , 22 July 2015
Have you instructed an employee to perform an environmentally hazardous job? Let me put this into context by using an example. Let's say you own a clothing factory...

You have an employee named Charlie. Yesterday, you instructed him to dump leftover textile dyes in a small nearby river. Charlie refused. He said the job will damage the environment.

In such a case, what can you do? I'm going to let you in on everything you need to know about what to do in such case...

Legislation surrounding environmentally hazardous jobs

The National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) protects workers from refusing to perform environmentally hazardous work. You can read all about it in Section 29.
In a nutshell, it states that in the case of such refusals, you as the employer can't:
  • Hold the employee civilly liable;
  • Hold the employee criminally liable;
  • Harass the employee;
  • Discipline the employee; or
  • Dismiss the employee.
Attention! Health and Safety specialists face fines imposed by the DoL!
Recently, the Department of Labour (DoL) conducted over 190,000 impromptu health and safety inspections. It even shut down a company for failing to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

Employers have been warned that there will be many more inspections.
Don't let them show up at your door unannounced.
It does, however, also outline some conditions from the employee's side. In order for an employee to refuse, he or she must:
  • Be in good faith; and
  • Be reasonably believed that the performance of work would result in a threat to the environment.

The duties of an employee when he refuses to perform environmentally hazardous work

I'm going back to my example now. So back to Charlie – he can't just not do the job you gave him to do. This is what he must do to be in the clear:
  • Charlie must notify you that he refuses to carry out the job.
  • Charlie must give reason for refusal. For example, he believes it will seriously pollute the river and harm any animals living in it.
So here's the bottom line: Don't instruct your employees to perform jobs that could damage our environment. They're entitled to refuse, and it's just not ethical on your part.

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