Members’ Rights to Accommodation, Refusing Unsafe Working Conditions, and Protection Against Disciplinary Action

This coming week, many CUPE 3903 members will face the difficult situation of having to return to in-person teaching without a clear, robust safety plan from the administration. As some YUFA members and departments explore their rights to refuse unsafe working conditions and to choose the mode of delivery of their courses, senior administrators have threatened disciplinary action against them and against 3903 members who do not comply. The situation has understandably created a lot of stress and confusion for our members.

CUPE 3903 seeks to re-assert and inform members about their rights to seek accommodations and to refuse unsafe working conditions, as well as the union’s duty to protect members who face disciplinary action.

Seeking accommodations
Members of CUPE 3903 are entitled to workplace accommodations for illness, disability, family status, and on other grounds stated in the Ontario Human Rights Code. If you are at high risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19, immunocompromised, or live with someone who is at high risk or immunocompromised, you may be eligible for a work-from-home accommodation based on disability or family status.

You can find out more about disability-based workplace accommodations, family status-based workplace accommodations, or contact the CUPE 3903 Equity Officer, Nadia Kanani, at

In order to increase the likelihood that your request will be granted, we strongly encourage members to contact the union for support before making a workplace accommodations request.

Due to high demand, CUPE 3903 is holding a third workplace accommodations information session on September 15th at 11am. Whether you are planning to request accommodation or you’re considering your options, this session is for you to learn more about what is available to you.

Right to Refuse Unsafe Working Conditions
Any worker who has a genuine belief that their work is unsafe can — and should — exercise their right to refuse unsafe work.

As long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there is no guarantee of safety when interacting with other people, as it is unavoidable on campus. For this reason, over 400 professors, sessional instructors, teaching assistants, and administrative staff at York University have signed an open letter calling for the administration to grant staff the right to:

  • Choose the method of course delivery
  • Access to adequate PPE
  • Rapid antigen testing for all members of the campus community
  • Ensure mandatory vaccinations for all those on campus
  • Transparent ventilation audits for each room/building on campus
  • Social distancing restrictions
  • Proper contact tracing protocols
  • Firm case thresholds for the suspension of all in-person activities

Despite these assertions, the Ministry of Labour has been consistent in ruling, in the case of other unsafe work refusals, that the existence of COVID-19 in itself does not constitute an unsafe work environment. You would need to demonstrate that the employer is not complying with the provincial standards around distancing, cleaning, air circulation, masks, etc., whatever those might be at the time.

If you believe your work is unsafe, you should exercise your right to refuse unsafe work immediately. Here is more information on who can use that right, as well as the steps and the limitations of the process.

Regardless of your choice to exercise your rights, we strongly encourage members to document and inform the union of York U’s lack of compliance with provincial standards around distancing, cleaning, air circulation, masks, lack of protection from belligerent students who refuse to comply, etc. Send documentation to your union representative and/or share it social media with the hashtag #UnsafeAtYorkU

Disciplinary Action
If the department or the university administration attempts to discipline you, suspend you or cancel your appointment, you have a right to representation from your union and are protected by article 8 of the collective agreement.

Please contact staff or one of the members of the executive to let them know what you are experiencing. Support can take the form of anything from sitting in on meetings with you to challenging the discipline, suspension, or cancelled appointment. If we are able to challenge the disciplinary measure, the process will proceed much like a grievance, the process for which you can see here.

The union exists to protect and support our members. We know that rank and file are making difficult decisions about the health and safety of themselves, their loved ones, their family and their students. Your union has your back.