December 9, 2022

Do I Have the Right to Leave or Refuse Work at an Unsafe Workplace?

Workplace safety issues

If you run into workplace safety issues at your job, it’s tempting to want to leave until the problem is resolved. No one should be forced to work in unsafe conditions, and often it falls to the individual worker to keep themselves safe. But can labor laws protect you from retaliation if you decide to refuse work and walk off the job?

Unfortunately, not always, unless there are safety guidelines in the workplace where you’re employed that state that explicitly. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act only protects workers who refuse work in very specific and extreme circumstances. Even if you find yourself in a situation where a lack of safety measures or safety guidelines in the workplace are making you uncomfortable, you may still not have the right to refuse work.

Under OSHA, you can only refuse work if there’s a real chance that you could be seriously injured or die if you keep working. The situation needs to be so dangerous and so immediate that requesting an inspection or filing a complaint with OSHA wouldn’t fix it in time.

If you’ve asked your employer to fix the problem and your employer has refused to do so, you may also have the right to walk away from work. The last condition is if you’re acting in good faith and you truly believe that continuing to work will endanger your life or well-being.

Even when all of these conditions are met, you’re required to remain at your workplace and finish out the day once you inform your employer that you refuse to work. At that point, your employer can choose to let you wait while the problem is addressed or assign you to a different job.

If there’s a condition that repeatedly makes safety guidelines in the workplace hard to follow, file a complaint with OSHA. If the situation leads to an injury, it might be a good time to call a personal injury attorney. Get more on this here.

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