Substance Abuse & Pennsylvania Workers’ Comp Claims

worker with arm injury

How does drug use or alcohol abuse affect workers’ compensation? Can your employer require you to take a drug test after a work injury? In this blog, we’ll tackle these and other questions about drugs, alcohol, and workers’ comp in Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, workers who have been injured or are suffering from occupational illnesses are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits regardless of fault. This means they don’t have to prove that someone else was to blame in order to receive medical benefits and replace lost wages. Injured workers may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits even if it was their own negligence or carelessness that caused their injuries, with certain exceptions.

One exception is the involvement of drugs and/or alcohol. Allegations of substance abuse can jeopardize one’s right to workers’ compensation benefits in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s “Intoxication Defense” & How It Affects Work Injury Cases

The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act provides for workplace injuries on a no-fault basis. As long as an injury or illness is work-related, an injured worker should be entitled to benefits, but there are a few limited defenses that can be used to avoid liability. One of these is often referred to as the “intoxication defense.” According to Article II, Section 201(c), employers are liable for compensation for injuries or deaths that occur in the course of a worker’s employment, “unless it be established that the injury was caused by such employe[e]'s intoxication or by his reckless indifference to danger.”

The burden of proving intoxication falls on the shoulders of the defendant (employer). If an employer effectively proves that “the injury or death would not have occurred but for the employe[e]'s intoxication,” all workers’ compensation benefits would be forfeited.

Pennsylvania employers may raise this defense if a worker is suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs – even prescription drugs or medical marijuana – at the time of their accident. They may do this by contesting the claim. At this point, the injured worker can argue that they were not intoxicated at the time of the incident or that the drug or alcohol test (if one was given) was incorrect. The employer will then be responsible for proving that intoxication caused the worker’s injuries.

Are Drug Tests Required for Pennsylvania Workers’ Comp Claims?

A drug test is not required to file a workers’ compensation claim in Pennsylvania, but there are scenarios where an employer may require drug and/or alcohol testing to determine whether intoxication played a role in a workplace accident. This is more likely in certain fields and occupations where employers conduct routine drug tests or have strict policies in place regarding drug and alcohol use.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implemented new provisions related to drug testing in May 2016. According to 29 C.F.R. § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv), post-accident drug testing is prohibited “if the employer took the action to penalize an employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness rather than for the legitimate purpose of promoting workplace safety and health.”

Workplace drug testing is permissible when it is conducted at random, is unrelated to a reported workplace injury or accident, is performed under state or federal law, or is used to establish the root cause of an incident that caused or could have caused harm to employees. In this final scenario, employers should test all employees who may have contributed to the incident, not just the employee/s who reported it.

Whether drug testing is required after your workplace accident will depend on the specific situation. If your employer has demanded that you take a drug or alcohol test, you should talk to your attorney.

Our Pennsylvania Workers’ Comp Attorneys Can Help

Employers should not use drug or alcohol testing to try to deny valid workers’ compensation claims or target workers for reporting on-the-job injuries. If you were injured at work and are facing a drug test or have had your claim denied or delayed for reasons related to alleged substance abuse, you need to protect your interests. These cases are complex and may involve state and federal regulations that influence the validity of drug or alcohol testing. At Handler, Henning & Rosenberg LLC, we have been helping workers throughout Pennsylvania for the past 100 years. Our workers’ compensation attorneys are known for getting results, and we are standing by to see how we can help you.

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