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When Employees Speak Up, You Listen!

Yesterday, we listed 14 specific workplace rights conferred on your employees by OSHA. Today, we’ll take a closer look at two key rights that sometimes get employers in trouble.

OSHA encourages employees to be active players in their workplace’s safety and health effort. Specifically, OSHA encourages workers to join with employers in promoting safety on the job, and it provides protection for those who speak up.

Right to Promote Safety

Working cooperatively to reduce hazards. OSHA encourages employers and employees to work together to reduce hazards. OSHA believes employees should be active participants in workplace safety, not passive observers. Employees are therefore encouraged to discuss safety and health problems with you, other workers, and union representatives.

Right to refuse to perform unsafe work. Although nothing in the OSHA law specifically gives an employee the right to refuse to perform an unsafe or unhealthful job assignment, OSHA’s regulations, which have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, provide that an employee may refuse to work when faced with an imminent danger of death or serious injury. The conditions necessary to justify a work refusal are very stringent, however, and a work refusal should be used only as a last resort. If time permits, the employee should report the unhealthful or unsafe condition to OSHA or another appropriate regulatory agency.

Recourse if the employer does not correct a hazard. An employee may file a complaint by phone, mail, e-mail, or fax with the nearest OSHA office and request an inspection if there are unsafe or unhealthful working conditions. If the OSHA area or state office determines that there are reasonable grounds for believing that a violation or danger exists, the office will investigate.

Right to Protection from Retaliation

Right to confidentiality. Employees who make a complaint to OSHA about safety and health hazards in their workplaces have a right to confidentiality. If the employee requests that his or her name not be used, OSHA will not tell the employer who filed the complaint or requested an inspection.

Whistleblower protections. Employees have a right to seek safety and health on the job without fear of punishment. That right is spelled out in Section 11(c) of the OSH Act. The law forbids the employer from punishing or discriminating against employees for exercising such rights as:

  • Complaining to the employer, union, OSHA, or any other government agency about job safety and health hazards
  • Participating in OSHA inspections, conferences, hearings, or other OSHA-related activities

OSHA investigators receive about 2,000 complaints a year from employees who charge their employer with retaliation.

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