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Drug Testing in Workers’ Compensation Claims

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If you have suffered a workplace injury, your best bet to begin the recovery process is to apply for workers’ compensation benefits. Almost all public- and private-sector employees in New York qualify for workers’ compensation, and virtually all work-related injuries are compensable regardless of fault. However, there are two major exceptions when it comes to workers’ compensation coverage for workplace injuries: (1) injuries caused by drug or alcohol intoxication, and (2) injuries caused intentionally by the claimant. A positive drug test after a workplace accident or injury can significantly complicate a workers’ compensation claim and can result in the denial of benefits. If you were required to take a drug test after a work-related injury and are worried about the results, it would be a good idea to contact a workers’ comp lawyer who can help you protect your workers’ compensation claim. 

Does New York Require a Drug Test for Workers’ Compensation Claims? 

No, New York law does not require drug testing as part of the workers’ compensation claims process. Instead, it leaves that decision up to individual employers, and many (though not all) employers take advantage of that option. Many workers’ compensation insurance companies offer employers a discount if they institute drug-free policies in their workplaces, which provides a financial incentive for employers to drug test their employees in the event of a workplace accident. Employers also have leeway when deciding when to perform a drug test. Some employers insist on performing the drug test immediately after the accident, while others allow the injured worker to receive initial treatment first. Regardless, most employer-required drug tests are performed within about 12 hours after the accident occurs. 

Can You Be Denied Workers’ Compensation for Failing a Drug Test? 

Yes, it is possible to be denied workers’ compensation benefits if you fail a drug test. In legal terms, the workers’ compensation program is a “no-fault” program. This means that an employee who is injured on the job can receive workers’ compensation benefits even if he or she was at fault for his or her injury. The no-fault scheme prevents employees from being able to sue their employers for their injuries, but it also relieves them of the burden of proving that their employer was at fault for the injury. The no-fault scheme is not absolute, however. Employees whose injuries are the result of accidents caused by their intoxication through drugs or alcohol are barred from receiving workers’ compensation benefits. 

Can You Still Get Workers’ Compensation in New York if You Fail a Drug Test? 

A positive drug test after a workplace accident does not automatically prevent you from getting workers’ compensation benefits, but it can create an additional hurdle for you to clear. While New York law allows employers to deny injured employees benefits if the injury was the result of intoxication, it also establishes a presumption that workplace accidents are not caused solely by a worker being intoxicated: “…it shall be presumed in the absence of substantial evidence to the contrary…[t]hat the injury did not result solely from the intoxication of the injured employee while on duty.” Thus, if you fail a drug test after a workplace accident, the burden of proving that the accident was caused solely due to your intoxication falls on your employer. 

This creates several issues for employers, such as: 

Proving Intoxication: 

It can often be difficult to prove that an employee was intoxicated at the time of the accident. A drug test performed long after the accident (e.g., 12-24 hours) does not necessarily prove that the drugs or alcohol were present in the employee’s system at the time the accident occurred. There are also certain types of drugs that can linger in the system for several days after use, which can result in a positive drug test even though the employee was not intoxicated at the time of the accident. 

Drugs or Alcohol Led to the Accident 

New York law bars employees from receiving workers’ compensation benefits only where the accident is “solely occasioned” by the intoxication of drugs or alcohol. This means that an employer must not only prove that the employee was intoxicated at the time of the accident, but that the intoxication alone caused the accident. Causation can become an issue in situations where an employee is intoxicated at the time of the accident, but the accident is caused by something else. 

Prescription Medications: 

Prescription drug use is generally acceptable, provided that the drug is used safely and effectively under the supervision of a medical professional. However, some employers have policies that prevent their employees from using certain types of prescription medications while on duty. A prescription medication used in contravention of an employer’s drug policy could cause issues for a workers’ compensation claim. 

Given the extent to which a positive drug test can affect a workers’ compensation claim, you should consider seeking the counsel of an experienced Suffolk County workers’ comp lawyer if you are concerned about a drug test putting your workers’ compensation claim in limbo.   

Other Issues to Consider 

While a positive drug test will not necessarily sink your workers’ compensation claim, it could have other undesirable effects. For example, many employers have zero-tolerance policies for drug use in the workplace. Even if a positive drug test in your specific situation would not disqualify you from workers’ compensation benefits, it could still result in disciplinary actions or even termination at work. Always refer to your employer’s policy on drug and alcohol use in the workplace to make sure you understand the potential consequences of failing to abide by them. 

Contact Our Attorneys for More Information about Drug Tests and Workers’ Compensation Claims

If you suspect that a drug test could put your workers’ compensation claim in danger, you should consider speaking to an attorney who can help you protect your interests. To get started, please contact a Suffolk County workers’ comp lawyer at Turley, Redmond & Rosasco by using our online form or giving us a call.

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