In yesterday’s CED , we looked at two informative comp cases. Today, another case - plus an introduction to a brand-new one-stop workers’ comp resource specifically for California employers.
If you violated a safety rule and were injured, do you get workers’ compensation?
When Peter Mars first joined Bowman Company as a machine operator, his supervisor, Jim Larson, gave him a tour of the workplace. “You’re going to find that we’re very committed to safety around here, Peter. Here’s the safety manual. Look it over before the first safety meeting.”
Mars dutifully read the manual, including a section on how to lock out the conveyor system before fixing a jam. At the safety meeting, the instructor reviewed the company’s lockout procedures. He also provided Mars with a padlock of his own.
“You should never put your hands inside the conveyor until you shut down and lock out the machine with this padlock,” the instructor warned Mars as he handed him the lock. “If you don’t follow these rules, you could get docked a day’s pay if you’re caught. If you’re caught a second time, you’re fired. And you could get seriously hurt. Understand?”
Over the next couple of years, Mars attended several other safety meetings where lockout procedures were reviewed and emphasized. He did follow the lockout rules on a couple of occasions when the conveyor jammed.
Then, one day, the conveyor system jammed because a piece of wood became stuck. Mars was too rushed to get his padlock at the other end of the plant. He quickly placed his hand into the conveyor to dislodge the wood.
As he did so, the conveyor suddenly started moving again. It grabbed his hand and crushed it before he could pull it out. Mars was rushed to the hospital, where his hand was amputated.
Mars filed for workers’ comp benefits, but Mars’s employer fought the claim. “What do you mean, they won’t give me workers’ comp?” Mars complained to his attorney. “Look at me. I lost my hand because of this job.”
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Mars’s attorney filed an appeal before the state supreme court. At the hearing, Bowman’s counsel explained the company’s objections:
As a result, Peter Mars’s injury was caused by his willful misconduct and he should not be allowed to benefit from his actions, Bowman said.
Decision: Benefits denied for the machine operator, ruled the Alabama Supreme Court. It was undeniable that Mars willfully disobeyed a mandatory safety rule. In fact, he even admitted that he knew at the time he was injured that the safety rules required him to lock out the conveyor before attempting to remove the piece of wood.
Comment: This company did everything right with its safety program, and yet a serious injury occurred due to employee misconduct. Nevertheless, because the company had documented all training sessions, it was able to prove that it was not responsible for the accident.
As we mentioned yesterday, the cases we’ve discussed could well have come out differently in California. Workers’ comp is one of the few areas of employment law that’s almost entirely governed at the state level. And it’s complicated:
Fortunately, answers to all of these questions and more are covered in depth in our new HR Management & Compliance Report, Workers’ Compensation in California: A Complete Guide for California Employers.
Hot off the presses, it includes everything you need to know for successful management of your company’s workers’ comp program. Order your copy today – your satisfaction is 100% guaranteed.
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You really can't say it enough: With so many HR- and safety related issues, it's going to come down to document, document, document.