As a general rule, an employee is not necessarily withdrawn from workers' compensation eligibility if he is injured while violating a law or committing a crime in furtherance of his job duties. Most often, the violation of a law or commission of a crime will affect an employee's receipt of benefits if, in the applicable state, it constitutes “wilful misconduct” or is the subject of its very own statutory provision giving a defense to the employer. The violation of a statute does not ipso facto equal “wilful misconduct.” Rather, flagrancy and knowledge on the part of the employee are generally required for an act to rise to the level of “wilful.”
Wilful misconduct usually affects compensation when it has taken the employment outside the employee's course of employment. Thus, in many states, employers may argue that the employee's violation of law or commission of crime was wilful misconduct constituting a deviation from the course of employment.
A few states have enacted statutes making the violation of a law or the commission of a crime a defense. These statutes are construed strictly and generally operate to deny compensation for an injury incurred while the employee engaged in such activity. Given the harshness of the result, most courts apply the statutes narrowly, preserving compensation unless, for example, the violation of law or commission of crime proximately caused the injury.
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