If you’re like many Californians, you’ve seen – and maybe even worked in – poor working conditions. Poor working conditions can include things like:
- Physically dangerous environments that could be improved
- Inadequate space utilization
- Bad lighting
- Non-ergonomic facilities for employees
- Anything that poses a hazard to employees, customers or visitors
But do poor working conditions equal a lawsuit?
Here’s what you need to know.
What Are Poor Working Conditions?
Poor working conditions, like those mentioned above, can make you dread going to work. Let’s take a closer look at each so you know what you’re up against.
#1. Physically dangerous environments that could be improved
Any time there’s a hazard – even if it appears minor – an employer is required to do its best to mitigate risk. Notify your employer if you discover a hazard that could result in an injury; you could be protecting someone from a life-changing accident.
#2. Inadequate space utilization
Poor working conditions can include things like inadequate space utilization. Employees need space to work comfortably and remain productive – and there needs to be quiet space, as well as a place for collaboration. While these may seem like small things, they can account for poor working conditions.
#3. Bad lighting
Bad lighting can be dangerous. Poor lighting can contribute to eye strain, mental fatigue and even reduced productivity – but when there’s natural light, or even just enough artificial light – employees tend to do better. Dim lighting can cause tripping and falling hazards, too, which can have devastating effects.
#4. Non-ergonomic facilities for employees
Uncomfortable working conditions can be physically hazardous – but even if they’re not immediate dangers, they can pose long-term health risks.
#5. Anything that poses a hazard to employees, customers or visitors
Unsafe environments are a workplace emergency. Some workplaces – like construction sites and some factories – are inherently dangerous in some ways, but employers are supposed to minimize risk to employees, customers and visitors wherever possible.
What About Unsafe Environments?
It’s a fact that poor working conditions can affect long-term health, but not all poor conditions are unsafe.
If you’re in an unsafe work environment, you must:
- Tell your immediate supervisor to give him or her a chance to correct the issue.
- If your immediate supervisor doesn’t correct the issue, go to your next-higher supervisor.
- Report the situation to Cal/OSHA’s Enforcement Branch if you cannot get anyone within your workplace to address it.
Poor working conditions that involve your health and safety could ultimately lead to you having the right to refuse to work until your employer corrects the situation, or until your employer investigates and determines that there aren’t any safety violations.
Don’t refuse to work until you’ve talked to an employment lawyer, though. If you do, and you weren’t entitled to do so under the law, you could be putting your job at risk.
Many factors that contribute to working conditions include:
- Cleanliness. Employers have to ensure that the workplace is reasonably clean and free from health hazards.
- Fall prevention. In workplaces that involve heights or other fall hazards, employers must provide risk mitigation.
- Lighting.Employers must provide adequate lighting, at least as far as is practical, to allow safety.
- Maintenance. Employers are responsible for maintaining safe equipment and workplaces. This includes maintaining a workplace free from discrimination and harassment, but also free from safety hazards.
- Temperature. Freezing or too-hot conditions are typically unacceptable, but not always.
- Ventilation. To protect employees from dust, mold and other airborne hazards, employers must ensure workplaces have adequate ventilation.
This isn’t a complete list of what employers are required to provide, but in general, employers are required to provide a safe workplace.
Can You Sue Over Poor Working Conditions?
Your first action when you encounter poor working conditions that threaten your safety – or the safety of other people in your workplace – should be to talk to your supervisor. If that supervisor doesn’t adequately address your concerns, take it up a level by talking to your supervisor’s boss. When you’ve gone as high as you can, you may need to talk to Cal/OSHA’s Enforcement Branch. They’ll investigate the situation.
Important note: If a safety hazard doesn’t pose an imminent danger, notify your employer of the problem in writing.
Your employer is not allowed to retaliate against you for reporting a safety violation. If it does, you could have an entirely different type of lawsuit on your hands.
Talking to a Lawyer About Poor Working Conditions
If you’re reasonably sure that the working conditions in your workplace are so poor that they could entitle you to refuse to work until they’re corrected, talk to an employment lawyer. Here’s what you can discuss with your attorney:
- Describe the conditions. Let your attorney know what’s wrong in the workplace and whether you believe you’re encountering safety hazards. Explain why these hazards are dangerous to you and to other workers.
- Talk about incidents that have occurred. If any of the safety hazards in your workplace have led to an accident, let your lawyer know.
- Discuss the actions you’ve taken. If you’ve approached your supervisor or anyone else in the company with your concerns, let your attorney know. Explain when, where and how you broached your concerns with supervisors, as well, and tell your attorney about those supervisors’ responses. If you have filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA’s Enforcement Branch, provide your lawyer with supporting documentation as well.
- Find out what your options are. Your attorney will most likely tell you to approach supervisors with your concerns if you haven’t already. If you have, your lawyer will evaluate the situation and tell you what your next steps could be.
- Find out what kinds of outcomes are possible. Ask your lawyer what might happen if you follow through with the next steps. You may want to ask if you’re entitled to refuse to work until the situation is corrected, or if there’s any type of legal recourse you’re entitled to.
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About Poor Working Conditions?
While there’s no guarantee that you have a case, it can’t hurt to talk to an attorney if you suspect you’ve been subjected to unsafe or poor working conditions.
Call us at 818-230-8380 for a free case review. We’ll answer your questions and talk about possible outcomes of your case, as well as give you the legal advice you need.