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.