Can I sue my employer for making me grind walls without providing me a dust mask?

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Can I sue my employer for making me grind walls without providing me a dust mask?

I do commercial tile work for a fairly large company. We had installed the wrong kind of grout (which my boss also told me to do) and now we have to grind it out with an electric grinder which causes a lot of dust. I tried to refuse doing the work without the dust mask but he said if I didn’t do it I would be fired. By the end of the day I was covered with white dust and lightheaded.

Asked on April 27, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

It is not clear that you could effectively sue. While provision of unsafe working conditions can lead to liability, in this case, you apparently knew it was unsafe but elected to do the work anyway. (You could, after all, have declined and accepted the risk of termination.) If you chose to do the work knowing of the risk, that could be considered contributory or comparative negligence, or else assumption of the risk--that is, that you contributed to the hazard--which reduces your ability to recover compensation.

Also, while you were lightheaded, if you did not suffer any significant or lasting injury, there is nothing to sue for--the amount of compensation you could recover for short-lived light-headedness would not pay for the cost of a lawsuit.

If you have reason to believe you have suffered some injury or illness, it would be worthwhile consulting with a personal injury attorney about the situation, but you would still need to bear in mind that your choice to do the work when you had qualms most likely weakens your case.


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