Employment in Nevada is presumed to be “at-will,” meaning your employer can terminate you for any reason, even if you were performing well and did not have any disciplinary issues. However, there are many exceptions to this general rule. One of the exceptions arises when an employee refuses to work in unsafe conditions.
Refusing to Work in Unsafe Conditions
An employer may not terminate you for refusing to work under conditions that are “unreasonably dangerous.” See D’Angelo v. Gardner, 107 Nev. 704, 718 (1991). Nevada law requires all employers to maintain a safe and healthy work environment. As a result, discharging an employee who seeks a safe and healthy working environment violates the public policy of the State and, thus, is illegal.
For example, an employer that requires a painter to paint without proper safety equipment and then fires the painter for refusing to work without the equipment has likely wrongfully terminated the employee. Of course, the term “unreasonably dangerous” is open to interpretation and will depend on the specific circumstances of each case.
The legal term for this type of claim is “tortious discharge in violation of public policy,” which means that an employer discharges an employee in a way that goes contrary to the laws and standards the government wants to uphold.
How Can I Prove Tortious Discharge?
To prove tortious discharge, you would need to show the following:
- Your employer required you to work under conditions that were unreasonably dangerous;
- You refused to work under those conditions;
- Your employer knew that you refused to work under those conditions; and
- Your employer terminated you because you refused to work under those conditions.
Keep in mind that you would need to show that your refusal to work under unreasonably dangerous conditions was the sole or primary reason your employer terminated you. To put it another way, you need to show that your employer would not have terminated you if you had not refused to work under the unsafe conditions. In legal terms, your refusal was the “proximate” or “legal” cause of the termination.
Also, tortious discharge requires an employer-employee relationship, so if your employer terminates you because a friend or family member refuses to work under unsafe conditions, then you would not have a claim of tortious discharge. See Brown v. Eddie World, Inc., 131 Nev. Adv. Op. 19 (April 16, 2015).
What if I Quit Instead of Being Fired?
You might still have a claim of tortious discharge if you were forced to quit because you refuse to work under unsafe conditions. It is more difficult to win this type of claim, but you can if you prove the following:
- You resigned because you refused to work under conditions that were unreasonably dangerous;
- A reasonable person in your position at the time of resignation would have also resigned because of the aggravated and intolerable employment conditions;
- Your employer was aware of the intolerable conditions and how they impacted you;
- Your employer could have remedied the situation.
This type of claims is called “tortious constructive discharge” because although your employer didn’t terminate you, it was as if it terminated you because you were forced to quit to avoid working under unsafe conditions.
How Can We Help?
If you have evidence that your employer has terminated you because you refused to work under unsafe conditions, then contact us to see how strong your potential case is. If you do have a case, then we can help you through the process of trying to obtain compensation for being wrongfully terminated.