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What are workers’ rights if there are unsafe work conditions?

Some California workers take safety for granted, because they know their employers are just as concerned about worker safety as the employees are. That, unfortunately, is not the case at every workplace, and there are circumstances in which employees are put in danger due to hazards and other issues at work. Workers need to know their rights to a safe workplace and what to do if their well-being is placed in jeopardy.

If there is a hazard or danger at work, employees have the right to contact the Division of Occupational Safety and Health in California, also referred to as Cal/OSHA, and report it. The worker can give his or her name and the agency will maintain confidentiality if that is what the worker wants. When an inspector investigates or has an inspection of the workplace, the employees can tell the inspector about any dangers that exist. Employees who tell an investigator about any issues have the right to have their names withheld.

If there is work that is in violation of the Cal/OSHA standards for health and safety, the worker has the right to refuse to do it. Prior to refusing, the employee should do the following. The employee should inform his or her supervisor and request that the issue be fixed. The employee should also tell the employer that he or she will keep working only if the danger is repaired or that another assignment be given. In addition, the employee should inform the employer that there is a safety regulation that is being violated. Finally, the employee should also inform the union representative about the situation, if applicable. In the event that the employer is not receptive, the employee should contact Cal/OSHA.

In some cases, the employer will threaten, intimidate, demote or dismiss an employee who complains or reports unsafe work conditions. If an employee’s contract is terminated or there is another form of retaliation, this may be the basis to complain to the state labor commissioner. It is also the foundation to pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit. Those who believe they have been mistreated due to reporting a hazard should speak to a legal professional experienced in employment law about whether it is possible to file a lawsuit in order to pursue compensation.

Source: dir.ca.gov, “Worker Rights — Employees have a right to a safe and healthful workplace,” accessed on Aug. 14, 2016


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