As wildfires and other natural disasters occur more frequently, California workers face an increased risk of suffering a catastrophic injury when reporting to work during a natural disaster.  Yet, many report to work during natural disasters out of fear of retaliation or suffering an adverse action, such as wrongful termination.  Given every employer’s obligation to provide and maintain a safe and healthy workplace for California workers, the California Legislature enacted SB 1044, known as the California Workers’ Rights in Emergencies law, which prohibits employers from taking or threatening an adverse action – such as a wrongful termination – where a California worker fails to report to or leaves work during an emergency due to the California worker’s reasonable belief regarding workplace safety concerns.

Now, during emergency conditions, California employers may not:

  1. Take or threaten an adverse action – such as demotion or termination – for refusing to report to work in an area impacted by the emergency condition where the California worker has a reasonable belief that the workplace is unsafe;
  2. Prevent any California worker from accessing their mobile phone or other communication devices to seek emergency assistance, assess safety, or communicate with another, such as a spouse, child, or parent, to verify their safety. California Labor Code §§ 1139(b).

Please note that the anti-adverse action provision exempts the following California workers:

  • A first responder;
  • A disaster service worker;
  • A California worker required by law to render aid or remain on the premises during an emergency;
  • An employee or contractor of a health care facility who provides direct patient care, provides services supporting patient care operations during an emergency, or is required by law or policy to participatein emergency response or evacuation;
  • A private employer’s worker, where the employer contracts with the government to provide or aid with emergency services;
  • An employee working on a military base or in the defense industrial base sector;
  • A California worker performing essential work on nuclear reactors or nuclear materials or waste;
  • A California worker of a company providing utility, communications, energy, or roadside assistance while the employee is actively engaged in or is being called upon to aid in emergency response;
  • A California worker of a licensed residential care facility;
  • A California worker of a depository institution;
  • A transportation worker assisting directly with emergency evacuations;
  • A private fire department worker; and,
  • A California employee whose primary duties include helping the public evacuate during emergencies. California Labor Code § 1139(b)(1)(A)-(M).

Please note that the provision providing access to mobile phones and other communication devices exempts the following California workers:

  • California workers in depository institutions;
  • California correctional facility workers; and,
  • California workers actively operating equipment permitted under Chapter 4 (commencing with Section 7340) of Part 3 of Division 5, Part 8 (commencing with Section 7900) of Division 5, and Part 8.1 (commencing with Section 7920) of Division 5.

The California Workers’ Rights in Emergencies law defines an emergency condition as either:

  1. Disasters or extreme peril to persons or property at the jobsite or workplace caused by natural forces or criminal acts; or,
  2. An order to evacuate a workplace, worksite, worker’s home, or the school of a worker’s child due to natural disasters or criminal acts. California Labor Code § 1139(a)(1)(A).

The California Workers’ Rights in Emergencies law defines “a reasonable belief that the workplace or worksite is unsafe,” as a reasonable person’s present belief that a real danger of death or serious injury could occur if entering or remaining at work.  California Labor Code § 1139(a)(2).  An employer’s compliance or noncompliance with health and safety regulations specific to the emergency condition is a relevant factor here.

Please note that health pandemics, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are excluded from this law.  California Labor Code § 1139(a)(1)(B).

If you are the victim for protecting yourself under the California Workers’ Rights in Emergencies law, contact Astanehe Law for your legal information call.  Astanehe Law has experience in protecting California employees from workplace retaliation and wrongful termination and will fight until you obtain justice!  Phone: (415) 226-7170.  Email: