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Can You Be Fired for Refusing to Work in Unsafe Conditions?

  • Published: March 10, 2023

Many workplaces aren’t necessarily “safe,” even despite there being various things an employer can do to ensure it’s as safe as possible for their employees. In unsafe conditions, employees have the right to refuse to work, but only if these unsafe conditions are unreasonably hazardous or dangerous.

For instance, if you’re working on a worksite and you refuse to work around heavy machinery or equipment, your employer may decide to fire you for refusing to work. But, if you see this heavy machinery being operated by untrained individuals, you may argue that it poses an unreasonable danger and you shouldn’t risk losing your job. Another example would be if you noticed frayed electrical wires that could cause serious injury or even death. Either way, some employers will still try to terminate employees who refuse to work, and therefore it’s a good idea to have a skilled wrongful termination attorney on your side.

You Have Legal Rights Under OSHA 

Employees have a legal right to refuse to perform risky jobs that clearly put them at risk for significant harm or death. This is provided that you satisfy the following requirements set in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

  • You’ve alerted your employer of the danger or hazard and have requested that they remedy the danger and they’ve failed to do so
  • You were refusing work in good faith since you genuinely believed you were placed in an imminent danger
  • Reasonable individuals would agree there is a real threat of severe injury or death
  • There isn’t enough time for the employer to remedy the threat through routine enforcement channels

If you find you are in any of these scenarios, it’s important that you urge your employer to remedy the danger or hazard or assign you to a different task. Inform your employer that you refuse to complete the job until they have fixed the threat.

When Your Employer Can’t Terminate You for Refusal to Perform Dangerous Work 

In California, employers have the legal responsibility to ensure their employees have a safe working environment and specific safety equipment available to ensure they remain safe. Sometimes, employers fail to provide their employees with safe working environments. Other times, employers don’t provide their employees with the proper safety equipment to do their jobs safely.

In either situation, employees have the legal right to refuse to perform specific tasks at work if they believe these tasks are unreasonably dangerous or hazardous. Unless employers can prove the work duties or workplace conditions are safe, they are prohibited from terminating an employee for refusing to perform dangerous work.

A reliable wrongful termination lawyer in California can help guide you through the legal process if you refuse to work because of a reasonable belief that doing so might lead to imminent danger to your life or health, and your employer doesn’t do anything to remedy the safety concern. You do have the legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.

Keep in mind that we’re using the term “imminent danger.” This is because, for you to practice your legal right to refuse to perform hazardous work, this work must be urgent, and there isn’t enough time for you to report the hazardous condition to the proper agencies. Also, there can’t be any reasonable alternative to perform this work without you being exposed to safety risks.

Employers Are Required to Maintain a Reasonably Safe Workplace 

Employers are legally responsible for ensuring they provide their employees with safe workplaces. If your employer expects you to perform a job without the proper safety equipment or to work with individuals who aren’t adequately trained, you may have the right to refuse to work. If your employer fires you because you refuse to work in unreasonably hazardous or dangerous conditions or circumstances, you may have the right to file a wrongful termination claim against them.  Also, your employer may face penalties if there were any workplace safety violations, which could help strengthen your case.

Employers are required by California law to create and implement an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) for their employees. The Cal/OSHA provides a guide and free tools for employers to create their IIPP written program

What to Do if Your Employer Retaliates Against You After You Report Unsafe Work Conditions 

It’s not uncommon for employers to take adverse actions against workers who practice their legal rights. This includes retaliating against workers who have protected rights, like being able to report unsafe work conditions to the proper agencies and refusing to perform dangerous work.

If you report hazardous work conditions to the appropriate agency and your employer retaliates against you, you should seek the help of an experienced California whistleblower-protection lawyer who can help you pursue compensation from your employer.

Employees are protected through California’s OSHA Act when they report hazardous conditions to the proper agencies or when they refuse to work in dangerous and unsafe conditions. Therefore, if you’re terminated or retaliated against by your employer for refusing to work in or reporting unsafe conditions, it’s in your best interest to talk with a lawyer right away to discuss your legal rights and ensure your employer is held accountable for their retaliation.

Speak With the Skilled California Wrongful Termination Attorneys at KCNS Today 

You don’t have to stand for being terminated for refusing to work in unsafe conditions. If you are fired for this reason, you may be entitled to file a claim for wrongful termination against your employer. Keep in mind, if the urgency of the danger does allow it, you can and should file a complaint with the OSHA regarding the hazardous work conditions.

Even if you file a complaint, it’s still in your best interest to consult with one of our reputable wrongful termination attorneys at KCNS Law Group. Call our law firm today at (818) 937-9255 or fill out our contact form on our website to schedule your free consultation and case evaluation.

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