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Can Pennsylvanians refuse to work in unsafe working environments?

Under Pennsylvania labor laws, no employee can be forced to work in an unsafe work environment. Laws created and enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor and Occupational Safety Administration give employees the right to refuse work in an environment which is unsafe.

A worker who finds his or her work environment to be unsafe has the right to lodge a complaint with a company supervisor, as well as OSHA, as soon as possible after the conditions are noticed. While a worker can file a complaint with an employer, a worker may not immediately benefit from leaving the worksite right after initiating a complaint for an unsafe working environment.

Pennsylvania authorities look into all aspects when reviewing a complaint to render a judgment. Prior to the complaint, the employee should first issue a written request to the employer to address the unsafe conditions. If the employer fails to address and eliminate the dangers, a complaint can be made to the proper state and federal authorities. It must also be proved that the employee refused to work due to the hazard and not due to laziness or any other reason.

The dangers listed in this situation must provide reasonable cause to make a complaint regarding an unsafe or inherently dangerous worksite. An employee must also prove that OSHA was contacted only because elimination of the danger by the employer was not possible under regular processes or in a timely fashion.

In many cases, an employee in this situation finds it beneficial to contact professional legal help in order to secure an employee's rights provided by Pennsylvania law. In some cases, the employee may face grave repercussions for not following an employer's instruction. If a case of wrongful retaliation ensues, the employee also has the right to initiate a lawsuit to address that matter.

Source: OSHA.gov, "Workers' right to refuse dangerous work," accessed on March 25, 2015

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