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Serious and Willful Misconduct

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California requires employers to provide workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. Usually, a workers’ compensation claim is the sole legal claim of an employee injured on the job against the company. It’s important to note that there are some exceptions to this rule, although limited.

For instance, under California Labor Code section 4553, an employee or surviving dependent can request additional compensation from an employer if the death or injury was caused by the employer’s “serious and willful misconduct.” If the employer is found liable for serious and willful misconduct, they will face a penalty amounting to half of the recoverable compensation in the claim. However, the employer will likely contest what constitutes serious and willful misconduct in California. Here’s what you need to know about it:

Three Scenarios of Serious and Willful Misconduct Under Labor Code section 4533

To understand what counts as serious and willful misconduct under the California Labor Code, our workers’ compensation law firm will outline it in three examples.

  1. The Employer Causes Intentional Harm or Injury to the Employee

Although this isn’t a typical scenario, an employer could be held responsible for serious and willful misconduct if they intentionally harm the employee, such as physically assaulting them in the workplace. The company would then face numerous legal ramifications apart from a serious and willful misconduct workers’ compensation claim.

  1. The Employer Violates a Workplace Safety Order

Workplace safety orders are instituted to ensure the safety and security of everyone in the business, especially employees. However, if the employer violates this, their behavior will constitute serious and willful misconduct. To ensure you bring a successful claim on these grounds, you must be an employee or a surviving dependent and prove the violation of a safety order, which must have undeniably led to the injury or death.

You must also prove that the employer knew of the safety order or the conditions that made the safety order applicable. Any violation of it would lead to serious injury if no one took corrective action. You can strengthen your claim by working with California workers’ compensation attorneys, who are well aware of the labor code and can help you emphasize these elements.

  1. The Employer Demonstrates Extreme Disregard for Employee Safety

Lastly, suppose the employer demonstrated an extreme disregard for the health and welfare of an employee to the degree that it increases the risk of a serious injury. In that case, they can be held liable for serious and willful misconduct. However, it’s important to note that you can hold the employer accountable only if they knew of the dangerous conditions beforehand and forced the employee to continue working in them.


California law clarifies that negligence is distinct from serious and willful misconduct, notably in the intent to cause harm to the employee or the display of blatant disregard of their safety. To hold an employer liable for serious and willful misconduct damages, incurring a penalty that is half the total value of the injured worker’s claim, the employer must have participated in undeniable misconduct. The employer will undoubtedly defend their claims and assert that they lacked knowledge of the supposed safety hazard, so it’s best to work with a workers’ compensation law firm to strengthen your claim.

Pacific Workers’, the Lawyers for Injured Workers, is a team of Bay Area workers’ compensation attorneys with extensive experience in handling serious and willful misconduct claims serving all of Northern CA. Call us now for a free consultation of your case at 800-606-6999 or chat with us online.