Workers’ compensation laws were created specifically to make sure that an injured employee has access to medical care, temporary or permanent disability benefits, and other necessary compensation regardless of fault. The system provides increased protection to employees, in that they can recover benefits without having to prove the employer or another party was negligent. The workers’ compensation process is also streamlined in comparison to the typical personal injury case, allowing most workers to receive benefits much more quickly.
However, while workers’ compensation is intended to provide a comprehensive remedy for employees injured in the course of their employment, there are circumstances under which a worker can be disqualified from workers’ compensation benefits.
The most common types of excluded injuries are those deemed not to have occurred in the course of employment. For example, employees engaged in horseplay at work without the consent or participation of management are typically not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in connection with resulting injuries. That’s because the employee was not working in furtherance of the employer’s interests at the time of the injury, and thus the injury isn’t considered to have happened in the course of employment.
But, that’s not the only reason an injured worker in Ohio might be denied benefits. Another reason is failing a drug test.
Drug Testing and Workers’ Compensation Benefits
In Ohio, workers who fail a drug test after an injury may be ineligible for benefits. However, disqualification isn’t automatic.
While it’s important for workers to understand that being under the influence at work may jeopardize their access to medical care and other benefits if they’re injured on the job, it is also important to be aware that not every drug test failure supports disqualification from workers’ compensation benefits. What Ohio law actually says is that an employee is not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for an injury caused by the employee being intoxicated or under the influence of marijuana or a controlled substance not prescribed by a physician.
Employers often shorthand this to suggest that any worker who has failed a chemical test is ineligible, but information provided by the employer isn’t always reliable. After all, the employer has an incentive to deny workers’ compensation benefits. And even employers with good intentions are often not experts in workers’ compensation law and procedure.
Therefore, an injured worker should not take his or her employer’s word that benefits are not available because of a failed drug test. Instead, any worker who has been injured on the job and is having trouble securing workers’ compensation benefits should consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney like the lawyers at Plevin & Gallucci. One key benefit of the free consultation provided to prospective workers’ compensation clients is that it allows the injured employee to gather reliable information from a knowledgeable, unbiased party.
The Rebuttable Presumption
One reason for the mistaken idea that failure of a drug test or testing positive for alcohol automatically disqualifies a worker from benefits is that in some circumstances, Ohio law creates a “rebuttable presumption” that an injury occurred because the employee was under the influence. However, the presumption doesn’t arise in every case involving drugs or alcohol. When it does arise, it is–by its own terms–subject to rebuttal by conflicting evidence.
When the Presumption Arises
The presumption that an injury was caused by intoxication or the influence of drugs applies only when:
- The employer has posted the required rebuttable presumption notice prior to the injury, AND
- Testing shows that either:
- The employee was legally intoxicated per a test administered within 8 hours of the incident causing the injury, or
- The employee was under the influence of a controlled substance, marijuana, barbiturates, or certain other substances per a test administered within 32 hours of the incident.
The presumption also arises when an employee refuses to submit to chemical testing after notice that such refusal may result in the denial of benefits.
If any of these elements is absent–for instance, if the employer failed to post the rebuttable presumption notice or an alcohol test was administered more than 8 hours after the injury occurred–there is no presumption. That doesn’t mean the issue is off the table, but it does mean that the employer will have to prove that the injury occurred because the worker was under the influence. That’s a much higher bar and it increases the likelihood that the employee will qualify for benefits–especially with the help of a veteran workers’ compensation attorney.
Rebutting the Presumption
When an injured employee hears that the accident is legally presumed to have been caused by intoxication or drug use, it’s easy to get discouraged. Most people know what “presumed” means, but “rebuttable presumption” is a legal concept most people aren’t familiar with.
In simple terms, “rebuttable presumption” means that while it’s presumed that drugs or alcohol caused the injury, the employee and his or her attorney have the opportunity to present evidence to show that isn’t true.
Here are a few of the ways that our workers’ compensation attorneys may be able to demonstrate that intoxication or drug use was not the cause of an on-the-job injury, despite chemical test failure:
- Demonstrate that the cause of the injury was outside the injured workers’ control, such as a machinery malfunction or a mistake made by another employee;
- Challenge the validity of the chemical test based on faulty administration or poorly maintained equipment;
- Establish that the chemical test failure does not reflect intoxication or drug use at the time of the incident–for instance, by providing evidence that the employee used marijuana or a controlled substance for pain shortly after the incident, but prior to testing.
Of course, every case is different and the best approach for you depends on the specifics of your case. If you’re facing possible disqualification from workers’ compensation benefits because you’ve tested positive for drugs or alcohol, arm yourself with valuable information and a dedicated, knowledgeable advocate. Schedule a free consultation with one of the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Plevin & Gallucci right now.