Can my workers' compensation claim be denied if I test positive for drugs or alcohol?

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Workers' compensation benefits provide a valuable safety net for employees who are injured on the job. However, if you fail a post-accident drug or alcohol test, collecting benefits will become much more complicated.  Workers' comp and drug testing

About Post-Accident Drug or Alcohol Screenings

Workers' compensation is a considered a no-fault system, which means you can still receive benefits even if your own inexperience or carelessness caused your injury. However, the no-fault presumption doesn't apply to drug and alcohol use on the job.

Many people mistakenly assume that post-accident screenings are only looking for alcohol and illicit drugs. However, you will be considered to have failed the test if you test positive for prescription drugs that were not prescribed to you by a healthcare provider. This includes opioid pain medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet.

For alcohol use, a BAC of 0.08 or more creates the assumption that you were intoxicated. A BAC in excess of 0.05 but less than 0.08 may be considered with other evidence to determine whether you were intoxicated at the time of the accident.

Refusing to take a drug or an alcohol test after suffering injuries in a work-related accident creates the presumption that you were intoxicated at the time of the incident.

Collecting Benefits After a Failed Drug or Alcohol Test

Emergency treatment will still be provided after a failed drug or alcohol test, but receiving further workers' compensation benefits will become much more difficult. To continue receiving benefits, you'll need to provide that your case falls into one of the limited exemptions.

Reasons you may still be able to collect benefits in Louisiana despite a failed drug or alcohol test include:

  • There was no written policy prohibiting drug or alcohol use. To use intoxication to avoid paying benefits, the employer needs to prove there was a formal policy banning drug or alcohol use in the workplace and stating consequences such as denial of workers' compensation benefits and termination of employment.
  • The drug and alcohol use policy wasn't communicated to employees. It's not enough to simply make a policy banning drug and alcohol use in the workplace. Employees must receive a copy of the policy, so they know the consequences of failing a drug or an alcohol test.
  • The results are excluded due to a failure to use uniform chain of custody procedures. When the sample isn't handled property, the results are inadmissible. 
  • Your drug or alcohol use was not the cause of the accident. If you fail a drug or an alcohol test, this creates the presumption that your intoxication caused the accident. However, this may not actually be the case. For example, if you were retrieving boxes from a shelf in a warehouse and a fellow employee ran a forklift into the shelf and caused the boxes to fall on top of you, the injuries you received would likely be considered the fault of the forklift driver. In this case, whether or not you were intoxicated is irrelevant.
  • Your employer provided intoxicating substances or encouraged substance use. This defense is rarely used, but Louisiana law exempts intoxication from being used to avoid paying workers' compensation claims if the employee's intoxication is the result of activities in pursuit of the employer's interests or if the employer provided the intoxicating beverage or substance and encouraged its use during work hours.

Failing a Return-to-Work Drug Test

Drug tests are often required when you return to work after suffering an on-the-job injury. If you fail this test, your income benefits can be terminated and your claim for Supplemental Earning Benefits will likely be denied. However, your employer will still be required to provide reasonable and necessary medical treatment.

Louisiana law RS 23:1221 states: "When an injured employee has been released to return to work with or without restrictions, and the employer maintains an established written and promulgated substance abuse policy which requires employer-administered drug testing prior to employment or return to work, upon the employee's failure to meet the requirements of such employer's established policy and inability to qualify for the position for that reason, the obligation for all benefits pursuant to this Chapter, with the sole exception of the obligation to provide reasonable and necessary medical treatment, shall be terminated and the employee shall be subject to the terms and conditions established in the employer's promulgated drug testing policy and program. The provisions of this Subparagraph shall not apply to prescription medication prescribed for the employee in the dosages so prescribed by a physician."

How Neblett, Beard & Arsenault Can Help

Neblett, Beard & Arsenault's dedicated attorneys are committed to helping Louisiana workers access the workers' compensation benefits they need after on-the-job injuries. To learn more about how we can help with your claim, contact us online or call us directly at 318.588.6303 to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.