MO COA Gives Guidelines on How to Reduce Comp Benefits for Safety Rule Violations
Under § 287.120.5, employees can be penalized for violations of safety rules and can have their benefits reduced by up to 50%. But when is the Employer entitled to reduce these benefits?
In the recent decision from the Missouri Court of Appeals in Elsworth v. Wayne County (April 24, 2018) (click here to read), the claimant suffered a major injury when she overturned a dump truck. She had been on the job for less than 1 month and received little, if any, training on how to operate a dump truck.
The accident was compensable, and the only issue for trial was whether the Employer was entitled to reduce the benefits owed to the claimant by up to 50% due to her violation of Employer’s health and safety rules pursuant to § 287.120.5.
When this matter was before the Industrial Commission, the Commission found that, prior to the date of Elsworth’s accident, Employer “had not made a reasonable effort to cause its employees to use safety devices and to obey any rules adopted for the safety of employees.”
Although the Court of Appeals disagreed with the Commission on what constitutes “reasonable efforts” to cause employees to use safety devices and to obey safety rules, the Court found in favor of the claimant and rejected the penalty provisions of the Act, preventing the Employer from reducing the benefits owed to the claimant.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
Even though the Court ruled against the Employer and denied the request to reduce benefits, the Court DID provide specific guidelines on what an Employer should do in order to take advantage of the penalty provisions of § 287.120.5 and reduce the benefits owed to a claimant by up to 50% when safety devices are not used and safety rules are not followed.
The Court of Appeals stated that courts should generally look at an Employer’s efforts to train and monitor employee compliance with safety rules when examining whether an Employer has taken reasonable efforts to cause compliance. Specific factors include (but are not limited to):
(1) Distribution of written safety materials;
(2) Scheduling and presentation of regular training seminars educating employees concerning the safety rules;
(3) Warning employees that disciplinary action will be taken if employees fail to follow necessary safety guidelines;
(4) Completion by employees of a written test to confirm understanding of the rules; and
(5) Whether known violations of the safety rules have previously gone unpunished.
The Court did NOT state that all of these factors must be in place before benefits can be reduced, but did state that these are factors that will be generally examined to determine if the Employer made a reasonable effort to educate employees on health and safety rules.
Simply creating a safety rule is insufficient to later claim that benefits to an injured worker should be reduced because the claimant violated a safety rule. Companies must distribute the safety materials, regularly train and educate employees on safety rules, warn employees of the consequenses of violating safety rules, and most of all….consistently enforce the safety rules. If an Employer follows these guidelines, there is a far greater chance that benefits to workers who violate safety rules can be reduced by up to 50% under § 287.120.5. As stated earlier, there is no requirement that all of these factors must be in place. Rather, these are court-identified ways to demonstrate what constitutes “reasonable efforts” to cause employees to use safety devices and to obey safety rules,
If you have any questions about how to apply these rules to any specific situations, or any other questions about how this decision may affect your safety department, please let me know.
- Brad ([email protected] )