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You Were Hurt at Work but Failed a Drug Test—Now What?

At Snow Carpio & Weekley, we receive many calls from workers who were injured at work but had to take a drug test, which they failed. Maybe they smoked a joint before heading into work, or they had a drink during lunch only to get injured when they returned to work. Many of them are panicking. They want to know if they can receive workers’ compensation benefits.

The good news is that Arizona changed its laws about 20 years ago. Before, any amount of drugs in your system would invariably lead to the rejection of your workers’ compensation claim. Today, the law is different, as our Arizona workers’ compensation lawyers explain below.

Drug Tests & Arizona’s No-Fault System

Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. That means workers should qualify for benefits if they were hurt while working. The no-fault system is a departure from personal injury law, where a victim needs to prove fault to win compensation. But proving fault is cumbersome and time consuming, so Arizona adopted a no-fault workers’ compensation system.

Employers often drug test their employees because the law requires it. (This is true of truckers.) Others test because they don’t want to employ people who are intoxicated or high. Drug testing is common in industries where safety is at a premium. For example, many workers are tested in the transportation, construction, and medical professions.

Drugs and alcohol can impair a person’s:

  • Judgment
  • Vision
  • Coordination or balance
  • Memory
  • Ability to process information

Other workers will be more likely to fall asleep if they’ve drank too much or done certain drugs. We understand an employer’s concern.

Because using drugs or alcohol is a type of negligence, insurers used to automatically deny workers’ compensation claims. They believed you should not receive benefits if you deliberately engaged in dangerous behavior.

Arizona’s Law Changed in 2005

In the 2000s, Arizona’s Supreme Court began reviewing whether an insurer could deny benefits for drug use. Certain parts of Arizona’s workers’ comp required that any worker who failed a post-accident drug test needed to prove the substance did not contribute to their injury.

In 2005, the Court decided Grammatico v. Industrial Commission. This case involved a construction worker who fell on the job and suffered injury. He submitted to a drug test, which found many substances, including marijuana, in his system. Accordingly, his workers’ compensation claim was denied.

Grammatico appealed, arguing that a denial due to drug use introduced fault into what was supposed to be a no-fault system. Furthermore, Arizona law states that workers’ compensation is a constitutional right.

Our Supreme Court agreed with him. The Court held that Grammatico’s drug use was not the primary cause of his accident, so the denial of his workers’ compensation claim was unconstitutional. They ordered that he receive benefits.

Komalestewa v. Industrial Commission is a similar case. An employee was hurt by a conveyor belt but had a small amount of alcohol in his system at the time. Based on the total circumstances, the Arizona Supreme Court held that the alcohol was not the primary cause of the worker’s injuries, so he should receive benefits, also.

Can You Receive Benefits?

Some workers who fail a drug test decide not to apply for workers’ compensation benefits. But as the above  cases show, you aren’t prohibited. So long as you can point to the nature of employment as in some way leading to your injury, then you can receive benefits. The law is much more favorable to workers, and the change makes sense.

We strongly recommend applying for benefits, even if you failed a drug or alcohol test. Make the insurer deny your claim—don’t decide ahead of time you can’t qualify for benefits.

Employment Drug Testing is Still Legal in Arizona

The cases discussed above did not say that employers cannot require drug testing. Let’s be clear. An employer may continue to test workers consistent with the Arizona constitution. Indeed, some industries require drug or alcohol testing. This is true of the trucking industry after many accidents.

Generally, Arizona employers can require drug testing for job-related reasons, if justified by business necessity. Safety related reasons are the most common.

Your Employer Can Fire You for Failing a Test

Your employer can also fire you for a failed test. Arizona is an at-will employment state. Employers can terminate for any legal reason, and they can usually justify letting someone go for substance use. The state gives them wide discretion about who they terminate.

Your employer could take other negative actions. If you have a professional license, for example, then your employer might also report you to a disciplinary commission. They might investigate and even suspend your license. But these negative actions should not impact the analysis for workers’ compensation benefits.

Nonetheless, workers’ compensation benefits can tide you over until you are healed enough to get back to work. These benefits should also pay for necessary medical care. With the cost of care exploding over the past 20 years, these benefits can keep someone from falling into bankruptcy.

Injured workers also can receive partial replacement of lost wages and even vocational rehabilitation, if you need to find a new job. Filing for workers’ compensation benefits is a sensible step, even for those who are let go because of a failed drug test.

How We Can Help Any Worker Struggling to Receive Benefits

Some workers’ compensation insurers continue to deny workers benefits for failed drug tests. They don’t follow the law. They might claim that intoxication was the primary reason you were hurt on the job and reject your application for benefits out of hand.

Call Snow, Carpio & Weekley, PLC, (877) 370-5788. Our legal team can listen to your story and review the facts surrounding your accident. We can also find evidence to help prove what happened.

Anyone whose claim is denied has a right to an appeal, but you would benefit from a lawyer’s expertise. Our Arizona workers’ compensation attorneys can review the most recent legal decisions to see how they impact your case. We can also argue to the Industrial Commission that you deserve benefits for an on-the-job accident.


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