Can I Be Fired For Complaining about a Lack of Safety Precautions at Work?

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As we slowly transition from the new normal back to the old normal, we cannot forget that we are still very much in the midst of a global pandemic. Although cases have waned in California (for now), our state still tallies thousands of new cases every day. As we learned in June, this is not the time to throw caution to the wind.

Unfortunately, your employer might not feel the same way. Many people are coming back to work and finding that their employers are not following the Federal and State-mandated precautions. Although these workers don’t feel comfortable in such a dangerous work setting, they also don’t feel comfortable stirring the pot and risk losing their jobs. After all, their employers might already be struggling after months of shutdowns, and an added safety complaint might cause their employer to retaliate. Fortunately, employees who bring these safety concerns to their employer are protected from retaliation under California law.

California Labor Code §6310 prohibits retaliation against any employee who makes “any oral or written complaint to … his or her employer” relating to the employee’s health or safety.[1] Employees who prevail on a retaliation claim under §6310 are entitled to reinstatement and back pay, and these claims may be brought as a private right of action. Simply put, California employees can make complaints to their employers about health and safety concerns without fearing losing their job over this complaint. If they are terminated, they can file a lawsuit, and if successful, can be reinstated back in their position and receive backpay. Even if the complaint is not based on an actual health and safety violation, employees are still protected, so long as they complain in good faith about their working conditions.[2]

If an employee blows the whistle to a government or law enforcement agency, or anyone “with authority over the employee” regarding a safety violation under law, such as violating the State’s executive orders relating to COVID-19, workers are further protected from retaliation under California Labor Code §1102.5(b). Similarly, Labor Code 1102.5(a) prohibits employers from preventing their employees from disclosing safety concerns which the employee reasonably believes to be a violation of law.

California law provides many protections for employees who do not feel safe at work. While we all want to go back to normal, we must all recognize that COVID-19 is still here and we must remain vigilant. Fortunately, concerned employees are protected from retaliation.

Do You Need Legal Assistance?

Haeggquist & Eck, LLP is here to help employees fight for their rights if they experienced retaliation for speaking up about unsafe or unsanitary working conditions. If you were punished for speaking up about not feeling safe at work, especially within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we may be able to help you fight for fair and just compensation.

Reach out to our attorneys today for a free consultation by contacting us online or calling (619) 468-5222.


[1] See Cal. Lab. Code §6310(a)(1).

[2] Hentzel v. Singer Co., 138 Cal. App. 3d, 290, 299-300 (1982).

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