Employee Intoxication As A Defense In A Spartanburg Workers’ Compensation Claim

The workers’ compensation system generally compensates workers for workplace injury without regard to whose negligence caused the injury, in exchange for the employee not seeking compensation in civil court for the workplace injury.  However, the employer is allowed to present defenses to a workers’ compensation claim when the employer feels it is justified in refusing a claim.  In presenting a defense, the employer can cite employee conduct that should be used to limit a claim.  For example, an employer can refuse to pay out benefits to injured workers who are injured in the course of their employment, if the employer can prove the employee was drunk or used other substances that could cause impairment at the time of the injury.

 

Intoxication Defense

Under South Carolina law, an employer is allowed to refuse to pay out a workers’ compensation claim if the employer can prove that the injuries an employee sustained were as a result of the employee’s intoxication.  The same law also limits an employee’s rights to receive workers’ compensation benefits if the employee was trying to commit suicide or harm others and those actions resulted in the injury.

 

The law further requires an employer who wants to use an employee’s intoxication as a defense to prove that the employee was in fact intoxicated at the time of injury, and that the intoxication led to the employee’s injuries.  Therefore, employers in some industries generally require injured workers to take drug or alcohol test shortly after reporting accidents or injuries with an eye on using any positive results to challenge the employer’s requirement to pay out workers’ compensation benefits.  If an employer denies an employee’s workers’ compensation claim, the employer must provide a written explanation for the denial to the employee within a certain period of time.

 

Positive Drug Test Alone Not Enough

A positive drug or alcohol test by itself is not enough to stop benefits, although an employer can use a positive test to intimidate or scare an employee into dropping a claim against the employer.  An employer can also try to intimidate an employee if the employee tests positive for a controlled substance, including prescription medication for which the employee does not have a prescription.  Employees should resist pressure and avoid making deals with the employer under these conditions in order to retain their workers’ compensation rights.  The positive test is just the beginning of the employer’s defense.

 

The employer still has to show the connection between the injury and the intoxication.  For example, a drug like marijuana can remain in a person’s system for up to a month.  If an employee smoked or otherwise ingested marijuana two weeks before a workplace injury and his employer required a drug test right after the accident, he may still test positive for marijuana.  In order to legally deny the employee’s claim, the employer will need to prove that the marijuana the employee smoked two weeks before the accident caused the employee’s accident and resulting injuries.  Even with a positive test, an employee should still file for benefits because the burden is on the employer to prove their defense.

 

Medication after Injury but Before Filing a Claim for Benefits

The timing of when an employee takes a substance that could result in a positive drug test is also important in another situation.  If the employee takes the substance after the accident, to relieve the pain of the injury, the positive test should have no bearing on the employee’s workers’ compensation claim.  If an employee takes Vicodin for pain when he gets home after hurting his back at a job site, he is likely to test positive on a drug test taken by the employer a day after the accident.  This is another example of why a positive drug test alone should not cause an employee to abandon a workers’ compensation claim without consulting with an attorney.  Injured employees should be careful about self-medicating after a workplace injury.  It is best to seek medical attention as soon as possible, and receive a prescription for any prescription strength medication the employee may end up taking.

 

Employer Assisted in Intoxication

How does this rule apply to office parties and other situations where the employer provides the alcohol and the employee consumes it as part of his work duties, for example mingling with clients and being sociable? Unfortunately, an employee can get penalized for being intoxicated and causing an accident in which he is injured, even when the employer provided the alcohol.  If the employee decides to leave the party and drive to another location to run an errand for the employer before returning to the party, and gets in a car accident, the employer can seek to deny the employee’s workers’ compensation claim.

 

Employers can require that all employees submit to random drug tests as a condition of employment, and have a written drug testing policy.  In some industries, random drug tests are required as a matter of law.  However, some employers can go beyond random workplace drug tests and require injured employees to take a drug test when the employee is injured in a workplace incident.  An employee who refuses a drug test may be fired under the employer’s drug policy, and additionally, the employer may try and use this refusal in its defense to a workers’ compensation claim to shift the burden to the employee to prove he was not intoxicated at the time of the accident.  The success of this tactic may depend on how reasonable the refusal to take the drug test was; if the injured employee has a chance to consult with his attorney before taking the test, he should do so and receive more specific advice on whether or not to refuse a drug test.

 

Contact an Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you were injured on the job and were tested for drugs or alcohol, do not be intimidated into not filing for benefits to which you are entitled.  Before you take a settlement or sign any documentation with your employer, you should speak to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for advice on how you can proceed with your workers’ compensation claim.  Contact Bryan Ramey & Associates today.