You Can Legally Say No to Dangerous Work

One of the toughest things for any employee is having to say “no” to their boss. It can feel like your employer has all the power when enforcing a project on you, but what if that project or task is a dangerous one? Do you have the right to say no if your boss tries to strong-arm you into performing it? 

It’s important to keep in mind that you do have rights, and you can say no, especially in certain cases. Here’s what you need to know.

The employer’s responsibilities

Both federal laws and California state regulations require employers to provide a safe working environment for their workers. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversees all this, laying out the guidelines for exactly what is considered “safe.” 

Every private company that does any interstate commerce is subject to OSHA’s regulations. Anyone who does business with the Post Office or ever makes a telephone call to a state other than California comes under OSHA’s jurisdiction.

Under OSHA, employers must:

  • Fix any recognised hazard that could cause serious injury or death
  • Change unsafe conditions that could result in illness over time
  • Clearly post an OSHA job safety notice
  • Provide any training needed to keep workers safe
  • Keep an accurate record of injuries and deaths
  • Adhere to special safety standards for things like fire protection, storing hazardous chemicals, and maintaining equipment

Specific California regulations about workplace safety

California’s laws are aligned with OSHA standards, so the first requirement is that your employer make a workplace comply with all OSHA standards. To operate in California, a business has to develop and write up a Prevention Program that clearly lays out a plan for how to prevent injury and illness. Employers have to keep this plan updated and follow through on it.

According to California regulations, if there’s an overlap between federal, state, and local regulations or laws, the law that gives the employee the most benefits or the most rights is the one that will apply.

The employee’s rights and responsibilities

You have the responsibility to contact OSHA if you notice a hazard at work, and there are four times where you have the right to say no to work:

  • There’s a generally dangerous, reported condition and your employer won’t fix it
  • The conditions are so immediately dangerous that you don’t have time to report it to OSHA or a state regulator
  • You have a good faith belief that there’s a serious risk
  • You don’t have any reasonable alternative

These rules apply to unusual situations — like spilled hazardous chemicals — or to something like your boss refusing professional forklift repair services and trying to make you fix the issue yourself when you aren’t qualified and might be injured.

What to do if you get hurt

You have the right to talk to an Orange County injury attorney to get advice, and in most cases, you should talk to a lawyer right away if you are injured on the job.

California also has workers’ compensation rules to ensure that all employees who get hurt on the job are protected. According to Orange County and California state rules, you have to report any injury to your manager immediately. You can then file a worker’s compensation claim, which should be done within 30 days.

It’s illegal for your employer to fire or punish you if you’ve been injured at work, or if you make a claim for workers’ compensation. Your employer also has to cover your medical care if you’ve been injured on the job. If your boss isn’t sure if your injury is really a workplace injury, California workers compensation allows you to get up to $10,000 worth of medical treatment while you wait.

The California system is designed to protect workers, but it can be confusing. Always report any dangerous situation to your boss and to OSHA if necessary. Don’t work if you think conditions are truly dangerous, and don’t hesitate to contact an attorney if you need to know more about your rights.