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Do you have the right to refuse to do unsafe work?

Here’s a scenario: You show up to the restaurant where you work to find firetrucks parked outside. There’s a gas leak somewhere in the area, and the scent of gas is rather strong. Your boss admits that he’s been told not to start any cooking until the firefighters give the word because of a gas leak into the sewer. Your boss, however, is convinced that if he flushes the drains out and opens a window, it’s safe to start work and he doesn’t want to wait.

What do you do?

Well, frankly, you have every right to put your life and safety ahead of your boss’s poor decision. The United States Department of Labor says that you can legally refuse to work (and cannot be fired or written up) when:

  1. You’ve asked your boss to eliminate the danger or assign you other work that would put you out of danger.
  2. You’re acting on “good faith” and genuinely feel that continuing the job will put you in serious danger.
  3. Any other reasonable person would likely agree with you.
  4. Time constraints make it an urgent situation and not something that can go through normal channels, like requesting a higher-level manager step in or an inspection from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In the above situation, you can calmly tell your manager that you believe that it’s unsafe and putting your life in danger to ignore the instructions of the firefighters. You can ask your employer to wait until the firefighters give the okay to start cooking. If your boss refuses, you then have to decide if your fears are reasonable. If they are, you certainly don’t have time to wait around on an OSHA inspector to arrive — so you’d likely be justified in refusing to work.

If you’re fired for refusing to work in unsafe conditions, you may have a viable wrongful termination claim. Find out more about your rights today.

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