No California worker should have to risk his or her life in conditions that are life-threatening. Employee rights allow workers to refuse dangerous work, but they must follow the appropriate steps. The first step is to inform the employer of the hazard. However, the fact that the issue was reported does not give the employee the right to refuse to work and leave the job site.
For an employee's rights to be protected, certain conditions must be met. If the employer does not take action and eliminate the hazard, and any other reasonable person would agree that the worker's life will be threatened, it might be grounds for refusal. Also, if the nature and severity of the danger do not leave enough time for an inspection by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the right to refuse work may be valid.
The steps the employee can take before refusing to do a dangerous job include asking the employer for a different assignment. The worker can also inform the employer that he or she will not perform allocated duties until life-threatening dangers are eliminated. However, the employee should not leave the site until the employer issues an order for him or her to leave.
Employees in California may find that they become victims of retaliation when they try to enforce their employee rights. However, retaliation is also a violation of employee rights, and no worker should have to put his or her life on the line for fear of retaliation. For that reason, many victims of such behavior choose to seek the support and guidance of an experienced employment law attorney who can suggest the best way to protect their employee rights.
Source: osha.gov, "Workers' Right to Refuse Dangerous Work", Accessed on Sept. 15, 2017