Historically speaking, workers’ compensation claims have been a nightmare for businesses across the world. The amount of money and time that must be devoted to the investigation (to determine its legitimacy) and the following legal proceedings, should they occur, can take up considerable resources. While anyone injured at work is absolutely entitled to replaced wages and the coverage of any resulting medical bills, some tend to take advantage of the system for their own gain. One of the trickiest scenarios involves the use of drugs.
The Blame Game
Drug testing is a standard part of workers’ compensation investigations in the 74% of states that require employers to offer workers’ comp coverage; it ensures that the accident was truly the employer’s responsibility, and did not occur because the employee was under the influence. However, marijuana is now legal — in some form — in 43 states. Since four out of five older adults take daily medications, and cannabis is considered medically-allowable in 33 of those states, the line between fault becomes blurred.
The strict nature of proving impairment was difficult to begin with, and rules and regulations (and laws) vary depending on what state you’re in. For example, Californian privacy laws protect employees from random or unexpected drug testing and force employers to have a realistic reason to test their employees; if whatever legal substance you’re taking is interfering with your daily work (such as sleeping pills making you drowsy), you must then prove your right to compensation if you test positive. This can be done by:
- Discrediting your employer’s testing methods
- Proving that the accident would have occurred despite any level of impairment
- Using witness testimony, recordings, and any other evidence to prove that you were acting reasonably at the time of the accident
- Providing a scientifically plausible reason why a test might have shown a false positive
Rebuttle Presumption Explained
This assumption that the drug contributed directly to the injury falls under the “rebuttle presumption” rule that many states possess. The employee may “rebut” that argument using the above methods, but many states don’t distinguish between medical and illegal uses of marijuana. In Ohio, for example, the law has not been updated since medical marijuana was approved; as it stands currently, a positive test triggered by medical marijuana will — regardless of any evidence pointing to an alternative cause for the injury — disqualify an injured worker from receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
In short, the effect that testing positive for marijuana after a workplace injury has on your workers’ comp claim depends on where you are. If you live and work in a state that has legalized marijuana for medical purposes, you may want to consider looking into the specific laws that apply — just in case.