Do Safety Violations Affect Your Eligibility for Workers’ Compensation?
Written by Shawn Diederich on April 28, 2016
The purpose of Florida’s workers’ compensation system is to ensure employees are promptly compensated for injuries incurred in the course of their employment. Workers’ compensation does not relieve your employer of its legal obligation to maintain a safe working environment. However, neither does workers’ compensation absolve an employee’s responsibility to follow federal and state safety regulations applicable to his or her employment. Indeed, failing to follow such rules can affect your workers’ compensation benefits.
Employee May Face 25 Percent Penalty for Safety Violations
For example, let’s say an employee is required to handle dangerous chemicals as part of his job. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has regulations requiring employees wear appropriate safety goggles when handling such chemicals. Accordingly, the employer issues the employee a pair of goggles and instructs him to wear them at all times when handling chemicals. But the employee decides not to wear the goggles, some of the chemical splashes him the eye, and he suffers permanent loss of vision in the eye as a result. Can the employee still claim workers’ compensation benefits?
In Florida the answer is yes, but with an important stipulation. Florida workers’ compensation law states that when an employee is injured by his or her own “knowing refusal” to “use a safety appliance or observe a safety rule” required by law, the employee may still file a workers’ compensation claim, but any wage replacement benefits must be reduced by 25 percent. In other words, an employee who would normally be entitled to receive $300 per week as compensation for lost wages would only be paid $225 if he knowingly failed to wear a required safety device.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is the employee only faces this 25 percent penalty if he or she is given the safety device and told of the legal requirement to use it before the accident occurs. To alter the above hypothetical case, if the employer never issued the employee goggles and he suffers a catastrophic eye injury, then the employer is on the hook for 100 percent of the wage replacement benefits required by workers’ compensation. The burden is on the employer to prove the employee knowingly failed to use required safety equipment or otherwise disregarded applicable safety regulations.
Get Help from an Orlando Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
Accusing a worker of failing to use proper safety equipment is just one defense an employer might raise in an attempt to deny or reduce workers’ compensation benefits. That is why if you have been injured on the job, it is critical you work with a qualified Orlando workers’ compensation attorney who can help ensure you are treated fairly by your employer and the courts. Contact the Diederich Law Firm, P.A., if you need to speak with a Florida workers’ compensation lawyer right away.