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You can walk away from an unsafe work environment in some cases

Under existing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protocol, any worker who is forced to work in either unhealthy or unsafe conditions should immediately report them to their employer. The employee is eligible to file a complaint with OSHA at any point.

OSHA warns that no worker is eligible to leave their job site and be legally protected in doing so simply because they deem it to be unsafe or they fear that it could make them ill. Nor can they do so because they file an OSHA complaint.

Instead, a worker can only refuse work or walk off the job if all of the following factors are at play:

  • There must be a fear of a real danger of someone becoming sick, getting hurt or dying that exists
  • Any potential risk must be clear in a way that any reasonable person would be able to foresee it.
  • A worker must have made their employer aware of the potential imminent danger that they face that has gone unaddressed
  • There must be too little time to correct the known hazard through standard enforcement approaches

When these four conditions are present, a worker can refuse work.

OSHA recommends that a worker let their employer know that they won’t work unless the hazardous conditions are addressed. In the interim, they recommend a worker have their employer assign them to other work tasks. They also suggest that workers don’t leave their job site until told to do so by their employer.

OSHA also warns that any employee who is treated adversely by an employer simply for reporting a potentially hazardous work situation has a right to file a retaliation claim with them. The complaint must be filed within 30 days of the adverse action being taken against them though.

Oftentimes, a worker’s fear of having their hours cut or being fired leads them to choose to work under unsafe working conditions when it would have best to have not done so. Even in situations like this, a worker’s rights to get medical care and recover lost wages exist. A Dauphin workers’ compensation attorney can answer your questions regarding your rights and whether you may be eligible to file a claim.


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