Do Employees Have the Right to Refuse to Work in Unsafe Conditions?

Do Employees Have the Right to Refuse to Work in Unsafe Conditions?

by / Friday, 02 September 2022 / Published in Workplace Woes
A worker wearing an orange hard hat holds his head in his hands.

Employers have a responsibility to provide a work environment that is reasonably safe for their employees to work in. While many types of workplaces can have inherent risks, it’s important that steps be taken to make sure they aren’t unnecessarily dangerous. For example, if a job regularly requires employees to be working on ladders, fall risks can be mitigated with frequent inspections for damage on the ladders, removing damaged ladders from use, providing fall protection equipment, and consistent employee training on ladder safety. 

If an employee has reason to believe their employer isn’t living up to that responsibility and there is an unreasonably dangerous condition in their workplace, what rights do they have?

Can You Refuse Dangerous Work?

If you genuinely believe there is an unsafe condition in your workplace, you can refuse to work. However, there are certain steps which need to be followed and criteria to meet for that refusal to be legally protected.

First and foremost, the worker needs to have brought the safety issue to the attention of their employer, if possible, but the employer hasn’t taken the steps to resolve the problem. You can also file a complaint with OSHA, but simply making a complaint is not enough to have a legally protected right to refuse work. 

The safety issue in question must be something that a reasonable person would agree poses a real risk of death or injury. The complaint must also be made in “good faith,” meaning that you genuinely believe a safety issue exists. If the issue is investigated and a safety issue is found not to exist, as long as it was reasonable to believe that the safety hazard could have existed, that is still a good faith complaint. For example, let’s say an employee sees a substance spilled on the floor in the workplace. The substance looks like one that is known to be dangerous and is stored in the area. If a manager comes to investigate and realizes the spilled substance is actually something harmless but looks similar to the dangerous substance and simply needs to be mopped up, that would be a good faith complaint.

Time is also a factor in whether or not you can legally refuse to work due to dangerous conditions. The safety issue must pose a threat so imminent that there isn’t time for it to be addressed through regular enforcement means, such as an OSHA inspection. 

If all of the criteria listed above are met, you need to ask your employer to either fix the safety hazard or provide other work that can be done instead. Your employer also needs to be told that you will not perform the work  until the safety hazard is addressed. Lastly, you must also stay on the jobsite until your employer tells you to leave. 

Contact a Michigan Workplace Injury Lawyer

If you’ve been injured on the job, don’t hesitate to contact a workplace injury lawyer for help with your case. It’s important to make sure your workers compensation case is handled correctly from the very beginning. When you have medical bills to worry about and lost income from taking time off from work to recover, you need someone on your side who will fight for you to get all of the compensation you need and are entitled to. 

At Goodwin & Scieszka, we’re experienced in helping the victims of workplace accidents in the state of Michigan and helping them with their workers compensation cases. Contact us today to find out how we can help with your case.