Hazardous jobs: Can a worker refuse?
By: Michelle Graveen
Publication: Supervisor Safety Alert
Date Posted: 06/14/2018
Employees can refuse to do a job if the conditions are hazardous, but this is a limited right. Under the OSH Act, an employee’s right to refuse to do a job is protected by whistleblower laws only if all of the following conditions are met:
- Where possible, the worker has asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so;
- The employee refuses to work in “good faith,” meaning that he must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists (the refusal cannot be a disguised attempt to harass the employer or disrupt business);
- A reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury; and
- There isn’t enough time, due to the urgency of the hazard, to get it corrected through regular enforcement channels, such as by requesting an OSHA inspection.
Can a worker just walk off the job?
Regardless of the unsafe condition, the employee may not simply walk off the job and expect whistleblower protections. When all of the above conditions are met, the worker must take the following steps:
- Ask the employer to correct the hazard,
- Ask the employer for other work,
- Tell the employer that he won’t perform the work unless and until the hazard is corrected, and
- Remain at the worksite until he is ordered to leave by his employer.
Also keep in mind that, outside of OSHA protections, union contracts and/or state laws may give employees the right to refuse to work.
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