The Impact of Drug and Alcohol Abuse on Workers’ Compensation Claims
If you suffered a workplace injury and tested positive for drugs or alcohol, you may worry about what this means for your workers’ compensation claim. Can you still recover compensation? Can your employer block you from recovering benefits or even fire you?
At Matt Fendon Law Group, we understand your concerns. We serve as a rock for injured and disabled workers throughout Arizona. Our experienced workers’ compensation lawyers help hardworking employees secure the benefits they are entitled to after a work injury. You can count on our legal team to stand up for you if you’re struggling to obtain benefits or have special circumstances complicating your claim. Call or contact us today for a free consultation.
Can Drugs and Alcohol Hurt a Workers’ Compensation Claim?
The use of drugs or alcohol could impact your workers’ compensation claim. However, the Arizona courts have held that neither prevents you from getting benefits.
In 2005, the Arizona Supreme Court issued an opinion in two cases related to whether an injured employee could be denied workers’ compensation benefits after an accident in which the employee was intoxicated. In one case, a worker was installing metal trim on 42-inch stilts when he tripped and fell in a cluttered area, injuring his wrist and knee. He later tested positive for marijuana, amphetamine, and methamphetamine.
In the second case, an employee attempted to fix a broken conveyor belt when his arm got stuck, causing severe injuries. His blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) measured 0.176 percent on a subsequent blood test.
An administrative law judge with the Arizona Industrial Commission denied both claimants’ applications for workers’ compensation benefits. The decision was based on a 2003 Arizona law that barred injured employees from compensation if they failed a drug test after an accident and failed to prove the substance played no role in the accident. Both injured workers appealed.
In one case, the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the employee’s denial and declared the 2003 law unconstitutional. Yet in the other case, the Court of Appeals upheld the denial. The Supreme Court consolidated the two cases to consider the essential question: can an employee who tests positive for drugs or alcohol be denied workers’ compensation benefits?
The Court decided the Arizona Constitution protects an injured employee’s right to compensation regardless of fault. As long as an injury occurs in the course of employment and a necessary risk or danger associated with that employment contributed wholly or partially to the injury, the injured worker is entitled to workers’ compensation. The Court further ruled that the 2003 law was unconstitutional because it barred workers’ compensation to employees if their injury was caused partly by drugs or alcohol, even if the risks associated with their employment were also a causal factor.
What Compensation is Available for Injured Workers Who Were Intoxicated or on Drugs?
Even if you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of a workplace accident, you could be entitled to the following workers’ compensation benefits:
- Medical benefits to treat your injuries, including the cost of emergency room visits, doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, medication, and medical equipment
- Partial compensation if you miss work for your injuries, at two-thirds of your pre-injury average monthly wage
- Disability benefits if your injuries result in a permanent impairment
- Vocational rehabilitation if you cannot return to your previous job due to the disability
Can My Employer Drug Test Me After an Accident?
Even though your employer cannot use a positive drug or alcohol test to deny your workers’ compensation benefits, it may still administer a test after an accident under Arizona law. However, it must have a written policy that was distributed to employees in advance that includes the following:
- The employees who are subject to testing
- The circumstances under which testing may be required
- The substances that may be tested for
- A description of the testing methods and procedures
- The consequences of refusing to take a test
- The implications of the test results
- The right of an employee to obtain written test results
- The right of an employee to explain a positive test result confidentially
Within the policy, employers may require substance testing in the following situations:
- Investigation of possible employee impairment
- Investigation of workplace accidents
- Maintenance of productivity, quality, safety, or security
- Reasonable suspicion of employee impairment that may adversely affect their job performance or the work environment
- On a random or chance basis
Furthermore, the law allows employers to take disciplinary actions based on a positive drug or alcohol test, including but not limited to the following:
- Required enrollment in a rehabilitation, treatment, or counseling program
- Suspension with or without pay
What Should I Do If My Employer Threatens to Deny My Claim Over an Alcohol or Drug Test?
Consult a workers’ compensation lawyer immediately if your employer threatens to deny your work injury claim for any reason, including a positive drug or alcohol test. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can enforce the law and pursue the benefits you are entitled to. Do not let your employer intimidate or pressure you into sacrificing your rights. If you get injured at work, you likely deserve these essential benefits under Arizona law.
Call the Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Matt Fendon Law Group for a Free Consultation
The legal team at Matt Fendon Law Group can guide you through the workers’ compensation claims process from start to finish. Our tough team of workers’ compensation attorneys will work to knock down any roadblocks your employer or their insurer throws your way. If your employer accuses you of being intoxicated at work, you can rely on us to counter their disputes and demand the benefits you are entitled to. Contact one of our Arizona workers’ compensation attorneys today for a free case review.