Workplace safety

The short answer is No.” As a general matter, the law does not afford employees the right to walk off the job because of unsafe condi­tions in the workplace. The law assumes that if the employee brought the hazard to the employer’s atten­tion the employer would promptly correct the hazardous condi­tions, or if not, the employee could request an inspec­tion of the workplace by the Washington State Depart­ment of Labor & Indus­tries, Division of Occupa­tional Safety & Health (DOSH).

However, a situa­tion may arise in which a nurse is confronted with an immediate choice between not performing an assign­ment or being subjected to a real risk of serious injury or death arising from a hazardous workplace condi­tion. If the nurse, with no reason­able alter­na­tive, refuses in good faith to perform work that involves exposure to the dangerous condi­tion, the nurse is legally protected from retal­i­a­tion by the employer.

The right to refuse an assigned task is protected only in these circumstances:

  1. The refusal to work must be in good faith, and not an attempt to harass the employer or disrupt business;
  2. A reason­able person would agree that under the circum­stances confronting the nurse, the hazard creates a real danger of serious injury or death if the nurse were to perform the assigned task; and
  3. There is not enough time, due to the urgency of the situa­tion, to get the hazard corrected through regular enforce­ment channels such as filing a complaint with DOSH.

When all three of these condi­tions are met, the nurse should:

  • Ask the employer to fix the problem;
  • Ask the employer for a different work assignment;
  • Tell the employer that unless the hazard is corrected, the nurse will not perform the assigned work; and
  • Remain at the facility unless directed to leave by the employer.