A workers’ compensation claim is generally the sole remedy an injured employee has against his or her own company in California—but there are some exceptions. A serious and willful misconduct claim is a cause of action that an employee can take if they suffer an injury caused by an employer’s deliberate or egregiously reckless failure to take proper workplace safety precautions. Within this blog post, our Salinas workers’ compensation defense lawyer provides a detailed overview of the key steps for an employer to take when defending a serious and willful misconduct claim in California.

Why it Matters: Employers Can Face Serious Penalties for Serious and Willful Misconduct

Under California Labor Code § 4553, an employer can face additional penalties—beyond being liable for workers’ compensation benefits—if they are found to be responsible for an employee’s injury or illness due to serious and willful misconduct. Depending on the specific circumstances, these sanctions can be significant. They may include:

  • An increase in the employee’s workers’ compensation benefits, up to an additional 50%;
  • Fines and other financial penalties from California regulators;
  • A civil personal injury lawsuit from the affected employee; and
  • In the worst cases, a criminal charge against the business owner.

Four Steps to Defend a Serious and Willful Misconduct Claim in California

Are you an employer in Monterey County or elsewhere in California facing a serious and willful misconduct claim from a current or former employee? If so, it is imperative that you know how to respond. Here are four actionable steps to take as an employer:

  • Stay Calm and Do Not Retaliate: Receiving a claim can be a shock, but it is essential to remain calm and professional. Avoid retaliating against the employee who filed the claim. Even if the claim is wholly unfounded, it is unlawful to take any adverse action against a current or former worker because he or she filed for serious and willful misconduct.
  • Understand Basis of Claim (Deliberate Failure or State Safety Violation): Take the time to thoroughly understand the basis of the claim. Serious and willful misconduct typically involves a deliberate failure to adhere to safety regulations or a violation of state safety laws.
  • Preserve and Organize Relevant Evidence: As soon as you become aware of the claim, start preserving all relevant evidence. This may include documents, emails, photographs, videos, and any other materials that relate to the incident or the employee’s allegations. Organize this evidence in a systematic manner, as it will be crucial in building your defense.
  • Seek Professional Legal Counsel: These are complicated cases. The stakes can be high. When facing a serious and willful misconduct claim in California, it is imperative that employers work with a workers’ compensation defense lawyer who has relevant expertise.

Consult With Our Salinas, CA Workers’ Compensation Defense Lawyer Today

At Yrulegui & Roberts, our California workers’ compensation defense lawyers have the specialized expertise that employers can rely on when facing a serious and willful misconduct claim. Is a current or former employee taking action against your company for alleged serious and willful misconduct? We can help. Contact our workers’ compensation defense team today for a fully confidential case review. Our firm serves employers in Salinas, Monterey County and throughout the surrounding Monterey Bay Area.