A core principle within the area of workers’ compensation is that the question of “fault” is largely irrelevant. It is only when the employee’s “fault” in connection with the injury is occasioned by him leaving the course of employment or is a statutory defense in a jurisdiction will the inquiry come into play. The test for workers’ compensation is generally not personal such that an employee’s misconduct, whether negligent or intentional, will affect the receipt of benefits. Rather, the test is merely whether the injury arose out of and in the course of employment.
When an employee engages in misconduct that causes him injury, an examination of the relevant state’s statute is a foremost consideration because that is usually the only way for an employer to use the employee’s “fault” as a defense. Failing this, “fault” inquiries in relation to employee misconduct is generally limited to an employee’s fraud in obtaining workers’ compensation benefits.
When an injury is not incurred in the course of employment, the employee is not entitled to compensation. Therefore, a “fault” inquiry may be crucial when the employee is injured as a result of a deviation from the course of employment. A key example is where an employee engages in prohibited conduct and is then injured. The employee’s “fault” in leaving the course of employment to engage in such conduct may take him out of the protective realm of workers’ compensation.