We recently had an employer raise, as a defense to a claim for unpaid wages, that the employee was negligent in the performance of some of his job duties, and that the employer should be entitled to an offset for "unclean hands." This is a defense which says that "one who seeks equity must do equity." It can prevent plaintiffs from seeking equitable relief if they have engaged in unequitable conduct themselves. Essentially, when you strip away the labels and look at what the employer was really arguing, the claim was that an imperfect employee is not entitled to wage and hour law protections, including minimum wage, overtime pay or breaks for meal periods or rest periods.
Fortunately, the court saw right through this claim. An unlawful violation of a statute imposes “strict liability,” (State Farm v. Superior Court (1996) 45 Cal. App. 4th 1093, 1102), and, “principles of equity cannot be used to avoid a statutory mandate.” Ghory v. Al-Laham (1989) 209 Cal. App. 3d 1487, 1492. The defense was stricken from the pleadings.