Sheriffs: Overtime, breaks, and unsafe work: refusal rights and “emergencies”


Your Component executive is very concerned that the employer is now using overtime to make up for a chronic shortage of Sheriffs at an even greater cost to the government.

Your Component executive has been made aware that some members have chosen to refuse overtime at their courthouses. For weeks now, B.C. Sheriff Services has chosen not to schedule a newly hired group of Deputy Sheriffs for full time work. Instead, they have been alternating their employment, scheduling them every second week. As a result, the service continues to rely on overtime to address the serious shortage of Deputy Sheriffs.

I want to remind our members that the Public Service Agreement is clear; you have the right to refuse overtime:

Article 16.9 – Right to Refuse Overtime

a) All employees shall have the right to refuse to work overtime, except when required to do so in emergency situations, without being subject to disciplinary action for so refusing.

Our Component 1 agreement is also clear on the definition of emergencies:

Article 11 – Emergencies Defined

A sudden unexpected or unforeseen situation or occurrence or set of circumstances demanding an immediate action.

We also want to hear from members of situations in the past 30 days where Deputy Sheriffs have refused overtime and an emergency has been declared to force them to work overtime or face disciplinary action.

Unsafe work

Sheriffs are routinely given more work to do and are being asked to do more than can reasonably or realistically be accomplished. Your union understands these concerns and reminds you to look after the health and safety of you and your coworkers. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you are unsafe due to short staffing or any other situation, you have the right to refuse unsafe work. This also applies to Correctional Officers. Members are reminded of Section 3.12 ("How to Refuse Unsafe Work") of the Occupation Health and Safety Regulation.

If you have reason to believe that the work is unsafe this is the procedure to follow:

  • Talk to your supervisor or employer;
  • Supervisor must investigate and fix the hazard or let you know that s/he doesn't agree that there is a hazard;
  • If you still believe the work is dangerous then you can continue to refuse and the supervisor must continue the investigation in the presence of the worker and a worker representative from the OH&S committee, a union designate or a co-worker selected by you;
  • If the hazard is still not fixed and you consider the work unsafe, you can continue to refuse and both you and the employer must contact the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). A WCB officer must investigate the matter without delay and issue whatever orders s/he considers necessary;
  • You may be reassigned to alternate work, at no loss in pay, while you wait for the WCB officer's decision;
  • Always let your shop steward know that you are refusing unsafe work.

Section 3.13 says that you cannot be fired or disciplined by your employer for refusing unsafe work. Any indication of retribution by the employer should be reported to your steward immediately.

Lunch and Coffee Breaks

All employees shall have two, 15-minute rest periods in each work period in excess of six hours, one rest period to be granted before and one after the meal period. Employees working a shift of three and one half hours, but not more than six hours, shall receive one rest period during such a shift. Rest periods shall not begin until one hour after the commencement of work or not later than one hour before either the meal period or the end of the shift. Rest periods shall be taken without loss of pay to the employees.

It’s unacceptable for our members to be working through coffee and lunch breaks. These are your rights under the collective agreement and they will not be stripped away by the employer.

The Component will track this information to see how widespread the problem is and work towards solutions. Please contact your Local chair.

In Solidarity,
Dean Purdy - BCGEU vice president Corrections and Sheriff Services - Component 1