May 9, 2022
SB 1044 employee safety bill has been successfully passed in the California Senate. If it continues to move forward and is passed in the House of Representatives, it can affect many companies throughout the state. In essence, the bill gives an employee the right to walk off the job, penalty-free, if they feel unsafe due to a state of emergency or emergency condition. They do not have to give notice, and the employer would not be able to fire them legally.
The new employee safety bill claims to apply to big natural catastrophes and emergencies, but it places few restrictions on what constitutes an emergency circumstance that allows an employee to refuse to go to work. In reality, the law extends beyond proclaimed “states of emergency” to “emergency situations,” which include any occurrence that poses a “severe threat” to a worker’s immediate health and safety or evacuation order.
The law merely requires the employee to report the state of emergency or emergency condition that compels the employee to remain home from work that day to their employer “when practical.” If this bill is passed into law, we should expect an increase in litigation over whether an employee was protected from dismissal under the new statute.
If SB1044 passes into law, employers may have to rethink how they handle employee safety during state emergencies. If there are fewer employees who are at work due to feeling “unsafe,” then companies must adapt and find ways to keep up productivity and a big enough labor force.
Many employer organizations and the California Chamber of Commerce are opposing the bill. While employers are trying to figure out how to prevent the bill from passing in the House, employees and labor groups are celebrating that they no longer have to be subjected to “unsafe work environments.” Depending on how far the labor groups take their complaints, they may eventually put hard-working business owners who are trying to provide a safe work environment out of business.
Cases like this are becoming more and more common. Learning to cope with changing work environments is important, and firms need to look at this new employee safety bill closely.