Workers’ compensation insurance helps to ensure that people hurt on the job have access to medical care and financial support. Workers’ compensation benefits are no-fault: An employee can recover compensation regardless of whether the employer caused the accident. In turn, workers’ compensation is a sole legal remedy for injured employees. Workers generally cannot file a personal injury claim against an employer.

However, there is an important exception to general rule: Through a ‘serious and willful misconduct claim, a California employer may be subject to liability for failure to provide a safe workplace. Here, our Fresno workers’ compensation defense lawyers provide an overview of Labor Code Section 6400 and explain the key things to understand about serious and willful misconduct claims.

What is California Labor Code Section 6400?

In California, businesses and organizations have a legal responsibility to ensure that a workplace environment is reasonably safe for people. Indeed, under California Labor Code Section 6400, “every employer shall furnish employment and a place of employment that is safe and healthful for the employees therein.”

In other words, Labor Code Section 6400 is our state’s general workplace safety statute. What constitutes a “safe and healthful” workplace in accordance with Labor Code Section 6400 depends on many factors. Though, it is well-established that employers have a duty to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and Cal/OSHA safety orders.

Labor Code Section 6400 and Serious and Willful Misconduct Claims

Under California Labor Code Section 4553, an employee who was injured on the job can file a type of legal claim called a “serious and willful” misconduct claim against an employer who failed to provide an adequately safe work environment in violation of California Labor Code Section 6400 or another state or federal regulation. To bring a serious and willful misconduct claim, a California worker must prove the following three things:

  • The employer violated some form of state or federal safety order or safety law;
  • The violation was the cause of the employee’s injuries; and
  • The employer knew about the specific violation and/or recklessly disregarded the health and safety of employees.

A serious and willful misconduct claim is a relatively high bar to meet in California. In interpreting state law, California courts have ruled that serious and willful misconduct on the employer is “more than negligence.” An employer is only liable for additional damages on the grounds of serious and willful violation of Labor Code Section 6400 if they intentionally violated a workplace safety order or acted with extreme disregard to worker safety.

Speak to a Top Workers’ Compensation Defense Lawyer in California

At Yrulegui & Roberts, we possess the professional skills, experience, and knowledge that you can rely on for results. If you have any questions about Labor Code Section 6400 and/or serious and willful misconduct claims, we are available to provide guidance that you can trust. Call us now or contact us online for a fully private consultation. With office locations in Fresno, Bakersfield, and Sacramento, our lawyers are well-positioned to defend clients throughout Central California.