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Is My Job Protected If I Refuse to Work Due to Health & Safety Risk of COVID-19?

What are my specific workplace health and safety rights during the COVID-19 crisis?

Your employer is required to take steps to ensure your safety and health, and to provide you with enough training and protection to do your job safely. Under the law, your rights include:

  • The right to be properly trained by your employer about safety on the job.

  • The right to be warned about hazardous materials to which you are exposed.

  • The right to be given protective gear if you work with hazardous or contaminated materials.

  • The right to make a confidential request for an inspection of your workplace by the Division of Occupational Safety & Health for safety and health standard violations.

  • The right to file a confidential complaint with the Division of Occupational Safety & Health if you observe or suspect a problem with safety or health at your workplace.

Employer retaliation over COVID-19 concerns

California Labor Code Section 6311 prohibits an employer to demote, terminate, harass or otherwise retaliate against "essential workers" who refuse to work in the presence of a health & safety risk. For example, your employer cannot retaliate against employees, including "essential workers," who refuse to establish social distancing rules and/or provide reasonable Personal Protection Equipment (e.g., masks, face shields, whatever else may be appropriate depending upon the work) where COVID-19 presents a risk. In fact, the health and safety issue need not be related to COVID-19. Employees can refuse to perform work that presents workers with health or safety risks, regardless of the risk. If an employee has a reasonable concern for their health and safety (e.g., employer is violating Cal-OSHA and/or OSHA regulations), then they can choose not to work and be protected by statutes like Labor Code Section 6311.

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