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Can you refuse to work in a dangerous situation?

Imagine going to work and being told you need to do something that you know is extremely dangerous. You don't have the right equipment or training, but your employer believes you can still get the job done.

You need to know your rights in this kind of situation. There is no reason that any employer should put his or her employees in harm's way purposefully.

Do you have a right to refuse that work, and if so, are you protected against losing your job?

Yes, as long as the situation meets certain requirements. First, you'll need to show that you asked your employer to eliminate the danger and that the employer failed to do so. For example, if you asked for a harness before going to work on a structure that poses a fall hazard but were refused, this would qualify. Next, you need to show that you refused to work because you truthfully felt that the risk outweighed the benefits of the job. That means that you genuinely believed you would be in danger if you performed that task as requested.

You should also show that any other person acting reasonably would also identify the threat and refuse to work. If there is time to seek help from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), you should do so. However, if there isn't, then you may be able to refuse to complete the job. Stay at your work site until the employer tells you it's okay to leave, and make sure you tell your employer that you won't work until the hazards are corrected.

In the case that you leave and your employer fires you or retaliates in other manners, you may have a case against your employer. Your attorney can review your case and let you know the possibilities for a claim.

Source: United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "Workers' Right to Refuse Dangerous Work," accessed Aug. 03, 2017

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