Recent California law permits employees to refuse to work or leave their workplace during an emergency. As their employer, you could face serious consequences if the employee can establish that you retaliated or threatened to take adverse actions against them for this refusal.
What constitutes an emergency condition?
The law defines an “emergency condition” as a hazardous situation arising from natural forces, such as earthquakes, forest fires, and other natural calamities, or criminal acts in the workplace, like an active shooter situation. An order to evacuate the worksite, employee’s home, or their children’s school because of crime or natural disaster also qualifies as an emergency condition. A health pandemic does not fall within this definition.
If your employees reasonably believe they are in the presence of an emergency condition, the law allows them to leave the worksite or refuse to go to work until the danger ceases. They must, however, inform you of the situation and that they are not reporting to work in advance when feasible. If not feasible, they must provide notice of their reason as soon as possible.
The law also states employers cannot stop their employees from using their mobile devices to confirm the safety of others, evaluate the current risks, or contact emergency services. Employers may face penalties for violating these terms.
Does the law apply to everyone?
There are notable exceptions; examples include:
- First responders and employees of fire prevention services
- Employees providing primary patient care in healthcare facilities
- Employees in military bases and defense industrial base facilities
- Employees who play critical roles in nuclear plant operations
- Employees tasked with aiding in emergency evacuations
A professional specializing in California laws can help if you want further clarification on what constitutes an emergency condition and how employers can cure alleged violations.