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Can You Refuse to Work When There Are Dangerous or Unsafe Working Conditions in the Workplace?

California employers are required by federal and state law to ensure a safe working environment for their employees. If an employee believes that there are hazards or unsafe working conditions in the workplace, he or she has a right to notify the employer about it and/or report the dangerous working condition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

But does an employee has a right to refuse to work when he or she believes that there are dangerous or unsafe working conditions in the workplace? “In the vast majority of situations, yes,” says our Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney at JML Law, “But it depends on the facts of your particular case.

To give you an in-depth answer, let’s review the guidelines and safety standards established by the OSHA for dealing with unsafe working conditions.

What constitutes an OSHA violation?

Under the OSHA, employers in Los Angeles and all across California are legally required to ensure a workplace that is free of any hazards and dangerous conditions that can cause injury, illness, or death. These safety standards apply to employees, while independent contractors are generally not protected under the OSHA.

Our employment law attorney Los Angeles explains that you may be able to report hazardous working conditions if any of the following is true:

  • An employer failed to provide a safe working environment free of hazards and unsafe working conditions that can cause illness, injury, or death
  • An employer did not post an OSHA job safety notice in the workplace
  • An employer failed to provide safety training to employees
  • An employer did not properly evaluate the risk of employees’ exposure to chemicals, toxins, and other dangerous materials in the workplace
  • An employer failed to properly store chemicals, toxins, and other dangerous materials in the workplace
  • An employer did not provide employees with protective clothing and fire protection when necessary

When can you refuse to work because of an unsafe working condition?

If you feel that certain working conditions or hazards in the workplace may pose an imminent danger to your health, safety, or life, report the dangerous condition to your employer or go straight to the OSHA.

But before you do so, consult with an experienced employment law attorney in Los Angeles or elsewhere in California, as reporting unsafe working conditions to the OSHA requires employees to be in compliance with the agency’s guidelines.

“But when does an employee have a right to refuse to work?” you may be wondering. You are legally permitted to refuse to work if any of the following is true:

  • You have a reasonable and good faith belief that a certain condition or hazard in the workplace puts your health or life in an unreasonable and substantial danger
  • Your employer is not able to or refuses to remedy the unsafe condition
  • The immediacy of the danger makes it unreasonable to file a complaint with the OSHA and wait for its investigation
  • You do not have a reasonable alternative to refusing to work

If you choose to refuse to work, you can refuse to return to work until after the unsafe working condition or hazard in the workplace is eliminated or investigation concluded that the danger is non-existent.

Typically, when a safety hazard in the workplace does not pose an imminent danger, a worker is advised to inform the employer of the hazard in writing and wait for the employer to eliminate the problem. If the employer fails to eliminate the hazardous condition in a timely manner, you can file a complaint with the OSHA.

Before making any decisions, consult with our attorneys at JML Law to discuss the legality and reasonableness of refusing to work because of an unsafe working condition or hazard in the workplace. Schedule a free consultation with our lawyers by calling at 818-610-8800.


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Our Los Angeles car accident law firm accepts cases on referral from other lawyers throughout California. To schedule a free initial consultation, call our office at 818-610-8800 or send us an email.

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