Injury While Breaking Safety Rules

Have you ever heard the maxim that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”? While true, that maxim is not applicable where an employer asserts the defense of willful employee disobedience of safety rules. An employer will assert this defense successfully only where an employee actually knows of the safety rule he is charged with breaking.

Proving actual knowledge is a difficult matter since it exists entirely in the mind of the employee-claimant. Courts will not impute knowledge of a rule onto an employee even if the rule is posted in the workplace. If an employer could prove actual knowledge of a rule simply by posting notice of it in the workplace, then liability could be avoided altogether for the price of a few photocopies of notices informing employees of rules forbidding all imaginable dangerous behavior.

Therefore, courts require more than the mere posting of regulations. The rationale for the requirement of actual knowledge of safety rules is well illustrated in the context of a factory, where signs of warning, caution, prohibition and keep-out abound. In such a setting, courts will not impute actual knowledge of the myriad rules posted in the factory on each employee without further evidence of the particular employee’s awareness of the specific safety rule he allegedly broke.