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#42 - New Jersey Workers Gain Right To Refuse Tasks They Believe Are Hazardous Or Polluting, 13-Sep-1987

New Jersey has passed a far-reaching law giving workers the right to
refuse to participate in activities that the worker "reasonably
believes" are "incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy
concerning the public health, safety or welfare."

Over the years, many public policy statements by the U.S. Congress and
by executive agencies within government have established clearly that
death, disease and injury should be avoided on the job. Therefore, the
law, though untested, on its face gives workers the right to refuse to
allow themselves to be exposed to chemicals that they believe may be
harmful, even though the chemicals do not violate any particular
standard or regulation. According to the language of the law, the
worker's "reasonable belief" that he or she is at risk gives him or her
the right to refuse to participate.

Furthermore, public policy statements by Congress and by executive
agencies have clearly established environmental protection as a
national goal: polluting, degrading and damaging the natural
environment run counter to America's established public policies.

Thus, from the language of the law, it appears that New Jersey workers
can also refuse to participate in any activity that they reasonably
believe would pollute or damage the natural environment.

S-1105, the "Conscientious Employee Protection Act" was passed in late
May, 1986 and signed by Governor Thomas Kean shortly thereafter with no
fanfare and little publicity. Yet the law gives New Jersey workers
rights that workers elsewhere do not have.

Most of the law basically provides "whistle blower protection." The
bulk of the language prevents any employer from retaliating against an
employee who blows the whistle on illegal acts by the employer.
Specifically, Section 3 of the law provides that an employer "shall not
take any retaliatory action" [defined as "the discharge, suspension, or
demotion of an employee, or other adverse employment action taken
against an employee in the terms and conditions of employment"] against
any employee because the employee does any of the following:

"(a) discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or to a public
body an activity, policy or practice of the employer that the employee
reasonably believes is in violation of a law, or rule or regulation
promulgated pursuant to law;

"(b) Provides information to, or testifies before, any public body
conducting an investigation, hearing or inquiry into any violation of
law, or rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law by the employer;

"(c) Objects to, or refuses to participate in any activity, policy, or
practice which the employee reasonably believes:

"(1) is in violation of a law, or a rule or regulation promulgated
pursuant to law;

"(2) is fraudulent or criminal; or

"(3) is incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy concerning
the public health, safety and welfare."

On the face of it, this law gives workers the right to refuse polluting
work, hazardous work and illegal or fraud-related work. There is no
need for the worker to prove the existence of an imminent hazard: the
worker simply has to "reasonably believe" that the work is dangerous,
polluting, fraud-related or illegal.

Copies of S-1105 are available from the New Jersey Secretary of State,
125 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08625; phone (609) 984-1900.

--Peter Montague



The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on
August 19 extended to "almost every workplace in the country" the
Hazard Communication Standard, which is OSHA's "worker right to know"

The old rule covered 14 million workers (employed in 300,000 shops),
requiring employers to inform their workers about hazardous chemicals
in the workplace and to label containers holding any of 2300 OSHA-
listed hazardous chemicals. The revised rule adds another 18.5 million
workers (in 3.5 million shops). The old rule covered only manufacturing
jobs; the new rule covers the construction and transportation
industries, service industries, plus wholesale and retail trades, so
long as those workers are exposed to hazardous substances on the job.

Requirements of the new rule will be phased in and will become fully
effective on May 20, 1988. OSHA estimates that the expanded coverage
will prevent 4100 cancer deaths per year, cutting cancer deaths in the
nonmanufacturing sector by 20%.

The revised rule is expected to preempt many state and local right-to-
know laws. Issuance of the revised rule was required by a judge in
response to a lawsuit originally filed by the United Steelworkers of

The revised rule appeared in the FEDERAL REGISTER August 24, 1987, pgs.
31851-31886. The entire law appears in 29 CFR [Code of Federal
Regulations] Parts 1910, 1915, 1917, 1918, 1926, and 1928. For further
information, contact Akio Konoshima, OSHA, Office of Information, Room
N3647, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20210; phone (202) 523-

--Peter Montague



The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sent Congress an
Appendix called "Preliminary Indoor Air Pollution Information
Assessment," which describes current knowledge of indoor air quality.
In the Plan, EPA says how it intends to tackle the recently-recognized
contamination of homes by hazardous chemicals oozing out of building
materials and consumer products. The Plan is available free from: EPA
Public Information Center, 401 M Street, SW, Washington, DC 20460;
phone (202) 3822080. Be sure to request the separate Appendix.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: whistle blowing; whistle blowers; right to act;
occupational safety and health; conscientious employee protection act;
nj; laws; indoor air pollution; epa; planning;