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OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.
July 11, 1983
Mr. Daniel S. Sweigart
Post Office Box 11
Ephrata, Pennsylvania 17522
Dear Mr. Sweigart:
This is in response to your letter of March 25, 1983 to President Reagan, regarding your Section 11(c) complaint against the Parke-Davis Company. I have looked into this matter to determine whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should take any further action.
In reviewing your present correspondence, along with the file and your previous letters, it is apparent that you have become knowledgeable regarding Section 11(c). You have also cited Section 12(b)(2) of CFR 1977, which relates to refusal to work rights.
If you read all of Section 1977.12 you are aware that normally, a refusal to work is not protected under the OSH Act. It is only when all of the conditions present in Section 12(b)(2) are present that a work refusal would be protected. There is nothing in Section 12(b)(2) which authorizes an employee to leave the work place to file a complaint with OSHA.
If you had remained at work after advising your employer of the water hazard; and if you were then fired for refusing to expose yourself to a life-threatening hazard; in all probability your work refusal would have been protected. However, after reading Sections 12(a) and 12(b)(1), it should be apparent to you that a work refusal can be protected under only very stringent conditions. Leaving the work place and being absent the remainder of your shift took you out of the realm of protected activity.
I realize that you may disagree with this interpretation. However, OSHA's responsibility is to enforce the regulations as written and as interpreted by the courts. Our attorneys in the Office of the Solicitor, both at the Regional and National Office levels, have reached the same conclusion as to the litigability of your complaint.
I regret that OSHA cannot assist you further at this time.
Thorne G. Auchter