The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created after the OSH Act was signed into law in 1970. It ensures employees are protected from workplace hazards and retaliation by their employer for filing a whistleblower complaint. Also, it now requires employers to take steps to reduce workers’ risk of being exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. If your employer has not, but requires you to return to work nonetheless, you have the right to complain.
However, many employers take adverse actions against workers who exercise their legal rights. You may be able to file a retaliation claim if you believe your employer has done so.
OSHA: Workplace Must be Free from Unsafe Working Conditions
An OSHA statement in April 2020 reminded employers that retaliation against workers who report unsafe working conditions is illegal, and that they must take steps to protect their workforce. The agency requires that they implement measures to reduce potential exposure to coronavirus. These include practicing social distancing, using proper disinfection products and methods, and providing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Workers who report unsafe or unhealthy conditions in the workplace, and face an adverse action as a result, can contact OSHA directly to file a whistleblower complaint. Its legal protections consist of more than 20 statutes that protect employees in different industries from retaliation.
What Is Retaliation?
Any form of retaliation for exercising one’s rights in reporting workplace safety issues is forbidden. Retaliation can take many forms; some of those identified by OSHA include:
- Unlawful termination, firing, or laying off a worker
- Demotion or blacklisting
- Denial of a promotion or employee benefits
- Denial of the approval of overtime hours
- Reduction of pay or work hours
- Intimidating or threatening an employee
- Refusing to hire or rehire a worker
- Reassignment to a position that limits or prevents eligibility for promotion
Options for California Employees and Workers
You are protected if you file a retaliation claim and engaged in a protected activity, the employer knew about or suspected it, and took an adverse action. It must also be shown that the protected activity is directly correlated with the employer’s adverse action against you. In regard to COVID, you may be able to refuse work due to unsafe conditions if, in good faith, you believe death or serious injury are possible, the employer has not addressed the issues you have discussed, or the situation is so urgent you are unable to contact OSHA or other regulatory agencies first.
In addition, you can also file a whistleblower complaint. It is a right under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act of 1970. Complaints must be filed within 30 days of an adverse action. If your complaint meets the required criteria, an employment law attorney can help you obtain legal remedies such as:
- Reinstatement of your job/position
- Back pay with interest
- Compensation with interest
- Punitive damages
- Non-monetary relief
But to receive possible remedies after refusing to work, OSHA recommends you first ask your employer to correct the problem. An alternative is to request a different work assignment. Or you can notify your employer you’ll perform specific duties only if the hazard is corrected. OSHA also recommends you stay on site until ordered to leave.
For expert advice on your options, contact an attorney familiar with employment law. They can help obtain legal remedies for adverse actions an employer has taken against you.
Contact Lawyers for Justice
If you are an essential employee subjected to unlawful termination, demotion, or any other form of retaliation, contact Lawyers for Justice. We are open during the COVID-19 pandemic to help build your case and obtain legal remedies. Familiar with federal and California employment law, our firm is conveniently located in Glendale near Los Angeles. Call 818-587-8423 for a free consultation today!