If You Think You’re Being Assigned Unsafe Work

If You Think You’re Being Assigned Unsafe Work
Advice for members about handling unsafe assignments and possibly refusing work

Talk to Your Steward

Call the AFSCME SMART Center

Consider OSHA instruction about refusing unsafe work

Consider filing a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA). You can file a complaint online here.

Considerations when refusing work for COVID

Employees who refuse to work due to concerns over COVID-19 risk discipline for insubordination. 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”), employers are required to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” OSHA further prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for raising concerns about safety and health conditions.

Employees may be able to avoid or overturn such discipline by establishing a reasonable basis for the employee’s belief that the employer has created unsafe working conditions (such as by failing to provide adequate training or personal protective equipment (“PPE”)) and that coming to work would put the employee at risk of contracting COVID-19. Employees who have medical conditions or who are particularly vulnerable to severe impacts from COVID-19 due to their age may have a stronger basis for refusing to perform unsafe work. Employees should notify the employer of any specific health concerns related to COVID-19 and request appropriate PPE, training, and/or correction of the dangerous condition to abate safety concerns before refusing to work, and requesting an alternative assignment.

Additionally, employees that have medical conditions putting them at greater risk from COVID-19 may also be considered as having a disability under state and federal law. As a result, employees who raise safety concerns related to their own health condition(s) may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation in the form of additional PPE, modified work location or conditions where possible, or enhanced leave options.

Even though a disability may not prevent you from doing your job normally, if the condition will be worsened without an accommodation because of the current public health situation, the Employer likely has a duty to accommodate your disability by providing you with PPE or paid leave from work. If you have an underlying health condition that puts you at greater risk for COVID-19, you should ask your supervisor in writing for PPE or other accommodations that will decrease your exposure.