Michael Burgis & Associates, P.C.

You don't have to do an unsafe job

Your employer tells you to do something that you know is clearly unsafe and puts you at serious risk. Maybe they want you to work near live power lines, for instance, or maybe they tell you to use a 40-foot ladder that is clearly rusted, broken and neglected. Regardless of exactly what the risk looks like, it all comes back to the fact that you know you could suffer serious injuries -- or even lose your life -- if an accident happens.

But what can you do? Your boss is in charge, and he or she told you to do the job. If you refuse, you think they'll just fire you. Is it worth your career to avoid a dangerous situation? Are you even allowed to refuse the work, or is this just what you signed up for when you took the job?

You can refuse

The reality is that you can refuse to do the job. However, you can't use this as an excuse to get out of work you simply do not want to do. Per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, these conditions, when fulfilled, allow you to refuse:

  • If it is possible, you went to your employer, told them about the risk, and asked them to fix it. For instance, maybe you explained that you wanted to do the job but the ladder was unsafe, so you wanted a new ladder. They refused to make the changes to keep you safe.
  • As a result, you genuinely felt that you faced imminent danger, and you refused to do the job. This is called a "good faith" refusal, which refers to the fact that you were honestly worried about the risk. Again, it's not just an excuse.
  • You know that you could ask for an OSHA inspection and have safety officials force your boss to make the needed changes, but there simply is no time to do it. That is why you have to figure out how to approach this on your own.
  • If you asked a third party about the risks or the danger, they would agree that you could get seriously injured or even killed on the job.

Essentially, this all boils down to one key point: You really saw a danger that you refused to take on, honestly believing that the risk to yourself was not worth it. That's why you refused to do the job.

Your rights

While you do have that right under U.S. laws, that does not mean your employer will not retaliate by cutting your pay, firing you or taking some other action against you. If this happens, make sure you know exactly what legal steps you need to take to protect yourself in California.

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