Can Drug or Alcohol Use Affect Workers’ Compensation In Orlando?
Written by Shawn Diederich on May 26, 2016
Workers’ compensation generally operates as a “no-fault” system. This means that if you are injured in a workplace accident, your employer and its workers’ compensation insurance carrier will normally pay out benefits without regard to how the accident occurred. However, there are important exceptions to this general rule in Florida. For example, if the employer has reason to believe that an accident was caused by the employee’s use of alcohol or illegal drugs, it may deny workers’ compensation benefits.
Florida law is quite explicit on this point: “[Workers’] Compensation is not payable if the injury was occasioned primarily by the intoxication of the employee; [or] by the influence of any drugs, barbiturates, or other stimulants not prescribed by a physician.” It does not matter if the employee was literally caught drinking on the job. The test is whether the employee was intoxicated or impaired when the accident occurred.
Here is an illustration from an actual case in Florida. A carpenter sought workers’ compensation benefits after slipping and falling on a pile of lumber. A supervisor testified the employee “smelled of alcohol, was unable to complete even simple tasks, and could not walk.” The courts determined the employer did not have to pay workers’ compensation benefits, as the “weight of the evidence” established the employee was intoxicated.
Can Your Employer Make You Take a Drug Test?
In addition to denying workers’ compensation benefits based on drug or alcohol use, Florida law also provides incentives for employers to actively test their employees for illegal drugs. Employers may choose to participate in a state-sanctioned “drug-free workplace” program. In exchange for receiving discounts on workers’ compensation insurance premiums, a participating employer must drug test all job applicants, and may subsequently test any employees based on a “reasonable suspicion” of drug use.
For workers’ compensation purposes, an employer may require an employee take a drug test following an accident. If the employer has already established a drug-free workplace program and the employee tests positive for drugs, that creates a legal presumption that the drug use caused the accident. This presumption can only be rebutted if “there is no reasonable hypothesis” that intoxication or drug use “contributed to the injury.”
Even if the employer does not have a state-certified drug testing program in place prior to an accident, it can still demand an injured employee take a drug test. But under such circumstances, the employee need only prove “by clear and convincing evidence that the intoxication or influence of the drug did not contribute to the injury.” It should be noted that a positive drug test includes a blood-alcohol level above .08 percent, the same limit that applies in drunk driving cases.
Workers’ Compensation and Drug Use
If your employer is denying workers’ compensation benefits based on allegations you used drugs or alcohol, it is important you seek immediate assistance from a qualified Orlando workers’ compensation attorney. You still have rights in these situations and an attorney can ensure you receive a fair hearing. Contact the Diederich Law Firm, P.A., if you would like to speak with someone right away.