Feeling Unsafe? California Bill Would Allow Employees To Leave Work Or Not Show Up Without Notice

California experiences states of emergencies all of the time due to a wide variety of events, such as wildfires, earthquakes, pandemics, and drought conditions.  In many cases, it is not clear when these emergencies end and it may be difficult to get the courts to force the Governor to rescind an emergency declaration.  See When Will California's State Of Emergency End?  

The California legislature is now pondering a bill that would prohibit employers from taking or threatening adverse action against any employee for refusing to report to, or leaving, a workplace within the affected area because the employee "feels unsafe" in the event of a state of emergency or "emergency condition".  The bill would define "emergency condition" as either: (i) An event that poses serious danger to the structure of a workplace or to a worker’s immediate health and safety; or (ii) An order to evacuate a workplace, a worker’s home, or the school of a worker’s child.

Notably, the bill does not impose any obligation on the part of an employee to notify his or her employer.  This lack of notice may actually exacerbate risk to others as employers may not be able to safely shut down or curtail operations.   A nursing home, for example, may suddenly find itself without staff to care for patients.  Nor does the bill impose any objective standard, such as a "reasonable belief".  All that is requires is that the employee "feel unsafe".  More importantly, the bill contains no exceptions for first responders or other persons who may be critical in responding to an emergency.  Finally, the bill appears to presume that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (aka Cal/OSHA) is not doing its job with respect to ensuring workplace safety.


Tags: Labor Code