California Workers’ Compensation: Is an Employer Liable for Serious and Willful Misconduct if an Employee is Responsible?

While workers’ compensation is generally the sole remedy that an injured worker has against their own employer, a company could face a serious and willful misconduct claim if gross negligence or an intentional safety violation caused that worker’s injury. This raises an important question: Is an employer still liable if an employee was responsible for serious and willful misconduct? The answer depends on the specific circumstances of the case, including what the employer did and did not do. Here, our Pasadena workers’ compensation defense attorney highlights the key things employers in California should understand about their potential exposure to a serious and willful misconduct claim if an employee is the one responsible for the incident.

Background: Serious and Willful Misconduct in California

Under California law (Labor Code § 4553), an employer may face additional liability from an injured worker if their accident happened because of “serious and willful misconduct” on the part of the employer. Serious and willful misconduct occurs when an employer either intentionally or with extreme negligence disregards safety rules or acts with a conscious disregard for the safety of their employees. An employer can be held liable for serious and willful misconduct committed by:

  • The employer itself;
  • The employer’s managing representative;
  • (If partnership) one of the managing partners of the company; and
  • (If corporation or LLC) an executive or managing officer.

In other words, an employer can only be held liable for serious and willful misconduct if the company itself or one of its managing leaders or executives engaged in the misconduct.

Gross Negligence by Non-Executive May or May Not Be Serious and Willful Misconduct

What happens if an ordinary employee engages in serious and willful misconduct? Does that give rise to a claim? The answer is “it depends.” These are highly fact-specific cases. Imagine that a low-ranking associate employee at a large department store assaults their co-worker. Is that serious and willful misconduct by the employer? The facts matter. Here is an explanation:

  • Why it Might Be Serious and Willful Misconduct: Imagine that the associate employee in question had a serious criminal background, was previously reported for threatening co-workers, and made disparaging comments about the victim prior to the attack. That might be deemed serious and willful misconduct because the employer could be viewed as grossly negligent in protecting their employee (the victim).
  • Why it Might Not Be Serious and Willful Misconduct: On the other hand, imagine that the associate employee was always a model worker. No complaints were ever raised, and there was no reason to believe that they posed a threat to co-workers. In that case, the employer likely is not liable for serious and willful misconduct because its actions were reasonable.

Contact Our Pasadena Workers’ Compensation Defense Attorney Today

At Yrulegui & Roberts, our Pasadena workers’ compensation defense lawyers have what it takes to handle serious and willful misconduct cases. If you have questions about your case, we are here as a resource you can trust. Contact us right away for a strictly confidential case assessment. Our firm provides workers’ compensation defense representation in Pasadena and throughout the surrounding area.