Injury Resulting From
Employee’s Willful Misconduct

An employer may assert the willful misconduct of an employee as a defense to a worker’s compensation claim only where a statute so provides. Willful misconduct includes behavior that is not inherently bad. Rather, it is behavior that may be outside the scope of the employment relationship.

Willful misconduct includes scenarios where an employee performs a duty in a manner that is needlessly dangerous. For example, where an office employee skips through corridors rather than walking cautiously, she creates an unnecessary danger. However, since this conduct is within the scope of her performance of her duties, her employer may not successfully assert a defense if she injures herself while skipping back to her office. However, if the same employee skips outside the office building and out to the street for her personal pleasure, the result may be different.

Violation of an employer rule for personal benefit is a second example of the type of willful misconduct that may bar recovery for injury even without the creation of needless danger. For example, a package deliveryman engages in willful misconduct when he uses his company-issued truck to drive to a location outside his route for the purpose of a personal errand. Under such a scenario, any injury he sustains would likely be barred by his willful misconduct. However, it is less clear whether an errand for the benefit of both the employer and the employee would result in a denial of benefits in the event of injury.

Finally, some misconduct does not constitute a denial of benefits despite its willful nature and its express prohibition by the employer. This category of misconduct relates to the method, rather than the substance, of the behavior. Examples of such conduct addressed by the courts are operation of a meat-grinding machine with the guard removed, the use of alcohol to ignite a fire, climbing a fence rather than walking three hundred feet to the gate, jumping a railing rather than following a stairway, reaching into a machine without stopping it and riding on top of the cab of a truck. These situations do not present sufficient employee fault to deny benefits completely and can be successfully defeated by a competent worker’s compensation attorney.