For more information please call  800.727.2766


Employee’s Refusal to Work for Safety Reasons Protected Activity

St. Paul Park Refining Co. (St. Paul) operates an oil refinery in Minnesota which processes crude oil into other products. Some of the refinery employees are members of the Teamsters union. Working at a refinery is considered dangerous work and under the collective bargaining agreement, employees were required to notify their supervisors if they believed their work conditions were unsafe and help correct any issues. Written procedures guide the employees in their work with all employees entitled to stop a job due to safety concerns.

Richard Toper was asked by a co-worker about the safety of a new technique involving the injection of hydrochloric acid into pressurized cylinders. Topor and the co-worker requested a written procedure for this technique. The new procedure stated that other cylinders should not be in the same area as the one being treated. Topor was assigned the injection task and noted that other cylinders were present. Topor objected on safety grounds; he was sent home after supervisors pressed him to do it and he refused. After an investigation, that included only supervisors and no co-workers, Topor was suspended.

Topor went before the National Labor Relations Board, citing unfair labor practices. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case on appeal from St. Paul. The National Labor Relations Act protects employees who stop working if they believe their environment to be “unsafe or unhealthy working conditions.” Topor repeatedly expressed concerns about the safety of the procedure and his refusal to work on it that day was part of his safety concerns which qualified as protected activity. The appellate court also found that St. Paul’s choices reflected discriminatory motive as shown in its sending Topor home after his refusal to work on the cylinder, its questionable investigation, as well as its inconsistent statements about why Topor was disciplined. St. Paul failed to establish that it would have taken the same action against Topor if he had not engaged in the protected activity.