Formal Steps You Should Consider
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended working in the United States, and with the virus still spreading, many workers have accepted that we will be operating under a new normal for some time. The state of California has published evolving safety guidelines for various industries that are intended to reduce the risk of transmission to both customers and employees. These measures typically include enhanced sanitation, universal mask requirements, physical distancing, and other measures.
However, some employers are not doing everything in their power to meet these guidelines or effectively enforce them. This can leave both employees and customers exposed to unsafe working conditions where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is heightened. If you are an employee subject to these conditions, you may be wondering if you have any options to fix the problem. Below, we review some of the steps you should consider taking if your workplace is not following COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Speak to Your Colleagues, then Your Boss
In an ideal scenario, solving a safety problem is as simple as addressing the concern with your boss. It may be a good idea to speak to your fellow employees first to make sure everyone agrees there is a problem. Then, formally present your concern, along with any proposed solutions, together with your peers. If you belong to a union, it may make more sense to speak to your representative rather than go directly to your boss.
If your boss still refuses to address the problem, you may need to resort to other methods. California employees have the right to refuse “hazardous” work, but a work stoppage, legally justified or not, can often lead to immediate consequences. Note that your employer cannot legally retaliate against you for raising a safety issue, reporting a problem, or working under hazardous conditions, but that may not stop them from attempting to dismiss you or reduce your hours. This could lead to immediate financial vulnerabilities, and you should be prepared to contact an experienced employment lawyer should you suffer retaliation.
File a Cal/OSHA Complaint
Employees always have the right to file anonymous complaints with the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA. Your name will only be shared with your employer if you choose to do so. A well-documented complaint will typically trigger an inspection from a Cal/OSHA agency, who, if they find problems, can fine the employer and require immediate changes.
There are caveats to this approach. While many employers might agree to fix safety issues under threat of a Cal/OSHA complaint or inspection, the process can still take many months. The agency has reportedly been inundated with complaints related to COVID-19 safety compliance, meaning even a well-founded complaint may not initiate a timely inspection, which does little to help your present situation. Still, the act of filing the compliant can be important in acknowledging the seriousness of a violation.
File a Complaint with Your County’s Department of Public Health
Cal/OSHA exists to protect workers, while your county’s department of public health is dedicated to protecting the public at large. Because COVID-19 is so contagious and dangerous, out-of-control transmission points, like a workplace not respecting safety guidelines, can be considered a threat to an entire county’s population.
For this reason, you should also consider filing a formal report with your department of public health if your workplace refuses to address pandemic-related concerns. Officials from the department may be able to more immediately communicate with your boss and mandate changes.
We Can Help Represent You in Workplace Disputes and Retaliation Claims
If you are experiencing a dispute with your employer as a result of COVID-19 safety violations, we can help. Our team at K2 Employment Law Group is experienced in representing employees in conflicts with their bosses and can assist you should your employer attempt to unlawfully retaliate against you. We have decades of legal experience that can help support your rights and safety in these unprecedented times.
Schedule your free initial case evaluation by calling (800) 590-7674 or contacting us online.