Labor & Employment Law
The Occupational Safety and Health Act is a federal law that serves to ensure employees work in a safe workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also known as OSHA, enforces the Act, which requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. OSHA does this through specific rules, or “standards” that employers must use and follow to protect employees from hazards, and also through its “General Duty Clause” which requires employers to keep their workplaces free of serious recognized hazards. The General Duty Clause is generally cited when no specific OSHA workplace safety standard applies to the hazard.
What are my rights under the OSH Act?
Employees have many rights under the OSH Act, including:
- Filing a confidential complaint with OSHA to have your workplace inspected or to report unsafe working conditions;
- Participating in an OSHA inspection and speaking with the inspector in private;
- Receiving information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to your workplace;
- Access to records of work-related injuries and illnesses that occur in your workplace;
- Receiving copies of the results from tests and monitoring done to find and measure hazards in the workplace;
- Access to workplace medical records;
- Refusing to work in dangerous conditions, although this is a limited right as explained below;
- Contesting the amount of time an employer is given to correct a hazard, also called an abatement, when a citation has been issued;
- Filing a lawsuit to compel the U.S. Secretary of Labor to act in the event of imminent danger and OSHA’s failure to act; and
- Having OSH Act rights posted in your workplace.
Can I talk to an OSHA inspector if one is at my worksite?
Yes. OSHA encourages workers to:
- Point out hazards;
- Describe injuries or illnesses that resulted from these hazards;
- Discuss past worker complaints about hazards; and
- Inform the inspector of working conditions that are not normal during the inspection, and letting them know how the work is usually performed.
Can an employer retaliate against an employee who reports unsafe working conditions?
No. Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits employers from retaliating against you for exercising your rights guaranteed under the OSH Act. It is a violation of the OSH Act for an employer to:
- Transfer; or
- Retaliate in any way against an employee for filing a complaint or using other OSH Act rights.
If you believe that your employer has retaliated against you because you engaged in protected activity, you should contact OSHA as soon as possible because you must first file your retaliation complaint with OSHA within 30 calendar days of the retaliatory act. If you miss this deadline, you will lose the right to hold your employer accountable.
Can I refuse to work in an unsafe condition?
The OSH Act does not expressly provide for the right of an employee to leave a job simply because of potentially unsafe conditions; however, you do have limited rights to protect you from being in dangerous situations.
Under the OSH Act, you can refuse in good faith to work under conditions of such a nature that a reasonable person, under the circumstances then confronting you, would conclude that there is a real danger of death or serious injury, and that there is insufficient time, due to the urgency of the situation, to eliminate the danger through resorting to regular statutory enforcement channels.
How do I file an OSHA complaint?
You can file a workplace safety or retaliation complaint with OSHA in person, by phone, by mail/fax/email or online. You do not need any attorney to file the complaint, although an attorney can assist you in the process.