Have you ever felt that you are sent out to perform a job that may be unsafe? If so, you need to know what your rights are in the event you feel you must refuse to perform the assigned task. When you think that conditions of work are unhealthful or unsafe, you should notify your employer. If your employer fails to correct the hazard or disagrees with you about the extent of the hazard, you may file a complaint with OSHA.
However, you need to take the right steps to protect yourself. Refusing to do a job because of potentially unsafe workplace conditions is not ordinarily an employee right under the OSH Act. (Your union contract or state law may, however, give you this right, but OSHA cannot enforce it.) Refusing to work may result in disciplinary action by the employer. However, employees do have the right to refuse to do a job if they believe in good faith that they are exposed to an imminent danger. “Good faith” means that even if an imminent danger is not found to exist, the worker had reasonable grounds to believe that it did exist. But, as a general rule, you do not have the right to walk off the job because of unsafe conditions. If you do and your employer fires or disciplines you, OSHA may not be able to protect you. So, stay on the job until the problem can be resolved.
You right to refuse to do a task is protected if ALL of the following conditions are met:
- Where possible, you have asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so; and
- You refused to work in “good faith.” This means that you must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists. Your refusal cannot be a disguised attempt to harass your employer or disrupt business; and
- 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 requesting an OSHA inspection.
When all of these conditions are met, you take the following steps:
- Ask your employer to correct the hazard;
- Ask your employer for other work;
- Tell your employer that you won’t perform the work unless and until the hazard is corrected; and
- Remain at the worksite until ordered to leave by your employer.
If your employer discriminates against you for refusing to perform the dangerous work, contact OSHA immediately. Knowing the proper procedures you need to follow in order to protect yourself will ensure that you don’t have to be in danger, or risk losing your job. Your life is worth more than any job.