Refusing to do unsafe work is your right and your responsibility


Regardless of your occupation, you are sure to face safety hazards. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) holds your employer responsible for the safety and health of you and your co-workers. Did you know that you have the right to refuse to do unsafe work?

An unsafe work environment could threaten not only you and your co-workers but also visitors to the facility where you work. For that reason, refusing and reporting dangerous conditions is more than your right, it is also your responsibility.

Reporting dangerous conditions

If you believe that a hazardous condition poses an imminent, serious risk, your first step would be to report it to your employer. You can refuse to work in such circumstances until your employer has addressed it by taking the necessary steps to mitigate the hazard. If your employer ignores your report, you can file a complaint with Cal/OSHA.

What defines an imminent danger?

According to Cal/OSHA regulations, you may refuse tasks that pose dangers that you believe could cause severe physical injury or death. However, such a hazard must meet the following criteria:

  • Health hazard: You can reasonably expect that you will be at risk due to the presence of toxic substances that could reduce your mental and physical efficiency considerably or substances that could limit your life expectancy.
  • Bodily harm: There must be a risk of death or serious bodily harm. This is defined as a threat of physical damage to a body part in a manner that will prevent you from using it at all or partial loss, which will limit the capacity of previous use.
  • Refusal in good faith: This means that you must have reasonable grounds and genuine belief that an imminent danger exists.

Some health hazards might not be immediately apparent to you, your co-workers and even your employer. If an inspector or compliance officer of Cal/OSHA identifies an imminent danger of health hazards, the safety officer will inform your employer of the necessary steps to take to eliminate the risk.

Can you leave the worksite?

After reporting the imminent danger and your refusal to work, you may not leave the worksite. If you leave without your employer’s permission, he or she can terminate your employment and Cal/OSHA might be unable to protect you. However, if you remain at the jobsite, Cal/OSHA can have your back in the event of any retaliatory action by your boss.

Help is available

This is a complicated field of the law that requires you to understand your rights and responsibilities as well as the responsibilities of your employer. Many California workers in similar situations consult with an experienced attorney who can explain and protect your employee rights throughout the ensuing procedures.

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