Workers’ compensation is designed to protect employees who suffer a workplace injury or illness. Generally, workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. That means employees are entitled to workers’ comp benefits, regardless of who was at fault for an injury or illness.
But what happens if you’re injured at work because you didn’t follow your company’s safety rules? Can you still file for workers’ compensation benefits?
As with many legal questions, the answer is that it depends. You may need to consult with a lawyer to understand how the law will apply in your situation.
Clear-cut cases where employees break safety rules
If an employee breaks an enforced safety rule and it causes an accident, then the employee cannot receive any workers’ compensation benefits.
One clear-cut situation involves drugs and alcohol. Employees who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol may have impaired judgment and increase the risk of injury. If you’re tipsy or abusing drugs and are injured, your workers’ comp claim will be denied.
Similarly, if an employee intentionally engages in conduct that puts them at risk of injury, their claim for workers’ compensation benefits may be denied. For example, if an employee deliberately ignores safety protocols or performs an activity recklessly and is injured as a result, their claim for workers’ compensation benefits may be denied.
Not all situations are so clear-cut.
Gray areas where a workers’ compensation claim may survive
Let’s say, for example, that a company requires its employees to wear steel-toed work boots for safety. If the employee comes to work wearing his crocs instead, and he breaks his foot on the job site, he is probably out of luck. He chose to violate a well-known and enforced safety rule.
But there are some circumstances where breaking this rule may not bar the employee from recovering benefits. If an employer cannot show that it has enforced the broken rule or that violating the rule caused the accident that led to the injury, the employee should still be entitled to benefits.
Let’s play this out. What if a window washer didn’t hook into his safety rope and fell, injuring himself? The company could say that it has a requirement that employees hook in when they are washing windows. But what if employees regularly don’t hook in? If there’s evidence that a safety rule isn’t regularly enforced, then the employee can still win the case.
Let’s take a look at another scenario. What if a construction worker doesn’t wear his company-issued hard hat? His hard hat is part of his personal protective equipment. There’s a company policy saying he has to wear that hard hat. There are signs on the construction site where the manager works warning about dangers. Every week, his manager reminds him of the need to follow the company’s safety rules and he signs a statement agreeing that he has read and understood the company’s safety procedures. If the worker suffers a head injury because he wasn’t wearing his hard hat, he probably isn’t going to be entitled to benefits.
But what if he was injured because he stepped on a rusty nail and it went through his steel-toed work boots? Then, the injury doesn’t have anything to do with the manager not wearing his hard hat. Even though the manager broke the rule, he’d still be able to get workers’ comp benefits.
What should an employee with a work-related injury do?
If you’ve been injured on the job, you need to report it immediately to your employer and file a workers’ compensation claim. Even if you broke a safety rule, if the rule isn’t related to your injury, or if the employer’s safety rule isn’t enforced, you may still be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. But the workers’ compensation carrier may try to deny your claim anyway. That’s why it’s so important to seek legal advice.
To discuss your injury claim, reach out to the workers’ compensation lawyers at Hunter & Everage today.