As we head toward another fire season, all California employees should be aware of a law that took effect at the beginning of this year. It addresses employee rights during an emergency – whether natural or man-made. This includes criminal acts, like mass shooter situations.
You would think it’s simply a matter of common sense and human decency that employees wouldn’t be required to go to work or prevented from leaving if conditions inside or outside are unsafe. However, you may remember the case of workers in a Kentucky candle factory who perished when a tornado hit in Dec. 2021. According to workers who got out or otherwise survived, supervisors told them as the tornado got closer that if they left, they risked being fired.
How does the law protect employees?
California’s new law prohibits employers from taking or threatening to take action against an employee if they leave or refuse to report to work as long as they have “reasonable belief that the workplace or worksite is unsafe.” The law also allows employees to leave or not report to work if the emergency is near their home or their child’s school.
Further, the law mandates that employers let employees use their cell phones or other devices to get information about the emergency or to get assistance. They may also check on loved ones and let them know they’re safe.
Some employees aren’t covered under the law
Of course, the law doesn’t apply to those who might need to be part of an emergency response or provide other needed services. These include health care workers, those who work in nursing homes and other residential care facilities and even bank employees.
In Northern California, emergency preparedness is crucial, whether you’re at home, in your car or at work when an emergency occurs. It’s important for employees (and their employers – including supervisors at all levels) to know what rights employees have. If you believe yours have been violated, it’s wise to seek legal guidance to learn more.