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Quebec Modernizes Its Occupational Health and Safety Legislation

A view of the city of quebec from the top of a hill.

​Quebec is in the process of updating its occupational health and safety legislation. Employment law experts say most of the amendments will take effect this year and beyond to give employers in the province time to make sure they are compliant.

The new law is the first major revision in this field in decades, said William Gagné, a lawyer with Langlois Lawyers in Montreal. Employers are now required to ensure their workers' psychological health and safety, just as they were already required to do for physical health and safety, he explained.

"Employers in Quebec already had the obligation to identify risks and develop prevention measures. They now have to remain vigilant and proactive in the implementation and application of these measures to their work policy," Gagné said. "These prevention measures also extend to remote work."

The legislation also sets out an obligation for the employer to take steps to protect workers exposed to violence in the workplace, stated Shari Munk-Manel, an attorney with McMillan in Montreal.

"The evolution of the labor market, changes in the nature of work-related risks and the need for a flexible and scalable system makes the modernization of the occupational health and safety system essential," said Jean Boulet, Quebec's minister of labor, employment and social solidarity, in a statement. "Workers need to work in healthy and safe workplaces where prevention is part of the work culture. This is an essential way to respond to government priorities to increase the level of health of Quebecois."

Changes Requiring Immediate Employer Action

Employers will be required to enact the following amendments by April 2022 in Quebec workplaces with 20 or more workers:

Implement a prevention program. This is an action plan that aims to eliminate or control workplace hazards through concrete measures in three steps:

  • Identify: Establish ways to identify hazards in the workplace.
  • Correct: Take action to correct these situations and eliminate hazards.
  • Control: Implement controls to prevent hazards from recurring.
Form a health and safety committee. The rules of operation of the health and safety committee should be determined by an agreement between the employer and its workers, Munk-Manel said.
Elect a health and safety representative. The representative's duties will include inspecting the workplace, investigating events that could have caused an accident, detecting risks that may affect the health and safety of workers, and identifying hazardous materials in the workplace.

Workplaces in Quebec with fewer than 20 workers must record and identify hazards that may affect employees' health, including chemical, biological, physical, ergonomic and psychological risks related to work, explained Jonathan Garneau, an attorney with Langlois Lawyers in Quebec City. Employers must also designate an occupational health and safety (OHS) liaison officer.

"The OHS liaison officer's function is to cooperate with the employer to facilitate the communication of health and safety information," Garneau added. "He or she may be absent from work for as long as necessary to perform his or her duties."

Rights for Quebec Workers

Workers' rights in Quebec under the new legislation can be divided into two categories—protection rights and participation rights, Gagné noted.

Protection rights include all obligations and standards that guarantee healthy and safe working conditions. Employees now have an increased right to rehabilitation in the event of a work-related injury, Gagné said. Rehabilitation measures will be extended to include more workers and can now begin as soon as a claim for an injury is accepted.

The Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, Quebec's labor board responsible for workplace standards, will determine whether accommodations are necessary to enable an employee to work for the employer, subject to the employer demonstrating that such accommodation would impose undue hardship, Gagné said. This will take effect in October 2022.

Participation rights refer to how employees can influence decision-making in occupational health and safety measures. Workers can now take part in committees, sign up for trainings and perform prevention duties.

Pregnant or breastfeeding workers in Quebec can now apply to the For a Safe Maternity Experience Program, receiving a certificate issued directly by a professional providing pregnancy or postnatal care, when the danger invoked by a worker is listed in a standardized protocol, Garneau noted.

After pregnant or breastfeeding workers give this certificate to their employer, they may then be assigned to another position or to perform other duties. If this is not possible, they may qualify for preventive withdrawal, where they stop working and receive an income replacement.

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, B.C.


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