Can an Employer Impose Drug Test After an Injury or Accident at Work?

Most of us feel that drug or alcohol use has no place in the workplace. Using drugs during your work hours is harmful and will likely lead to serious accidents and injuries on the job. As such drug testing laws determine the way employers in California gather evidence so that can obviate their liability for workers’ compensation benefits. However, interestingly drug testing, as well as drug defenses, do not come into play on a workers’ comp claim as frequently as you may think. When the issue does arise however there are overlays with employment and termination issues.

Workers compensation law allows injured employees to receive compensation benefits, even when the worker was using drugs when the work injury occurred. Therefore, even if you undergo drug testing and the test indicates that drug or alcohol intoxication played a role in your work-related injury, it still may not be enough to rule out your benefits under the law. Remember that the main distinction lies in whether drug intoxication is the main cause of your work injury or whether it is only a contributory cause.

Obtaining Your Workers’ Compensation Benefits

We at West Coast Workers Comp understand that in these situations you would need a competent and aggressive advocate who will work hard to secure the maximum benefits for you under the California workers’ comp law. When most employees suffer an injury on their job unexpectedly, they are thrown into a complex web of rules that confuse their understanding of their rights.

Employees assume that their employer will try to help an injured employee get through a difficult and tough situation. However, most of the time, this is not the case. Your employer and their workers’ comp insurance carrier might try to find holes or flaws in your story. This is why we at West Coast Workers Comp understand you need  an experienced attorney  to protect your legal rights.

What You Should Know

Keep in mind that there is plenty of misinformation when it comes to workers’ compensation benefits and drug test results. Here are some important facts:

  • Firstly, the drug test needs to be administered within 8 hours of the workplace injury. If the drug test is administered after 8 hours, your employer is responsible for showing that the drugs in your system were the cause of your work injury.
  • Even if the employer administered the drug test within the 8-hour period, if you were not impaired at your job at the time of your work injury because of the drugs in your system, then you may still have a very strong workers’ comp claim.

Workplace Accidents and Injuries Can Trigger Drug Tests

Your California employer can ask you to take a drug test after a work-related accident, provided a written drug policy is in place AND does not appear to be in retaliation for you having a work injury. Note that if you take the test, your employer will have to foot the bill for the test they order.

In most cases, testing usually only includes urine sample collection. As marijuana or THC, tends to stay in the system for up to one month, this kind of drug test may show a positive result even if you consumed THC away from work more than a week before your work accident.

OSHA’s Limitation on Employer’s Post-accident Drug Testing Rights

While your employer has a right to test you, recent initiatives by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may now limit your employer’s right to carry out post-accident testing. In an August 2016 release, OSHA stated that mandatory drug testing should not be implemented in the workplace unless a work-related injury may have been caused by an employee’s drug abuse.

Note that the OSHA rule only prevents your employer from drug testing you for reporting work-related illnesses or injuries if your employer does not have an objectively reasonable basis for thinking that your drug or alcohol use triggered the work accident or injury. The rule was carefully designed to place more emphasis on employers’ obligation to make sure workers report workplace injuries.

However, the rule does not eliminate the use of drug tests after a work accident. Many workplace drug-testing programs are still permissible, including:

  • Random drug testing
  • Drug testing not related to the reporting of work-related injuries or illnesses
  • Drug testing done under a state workers’ comp law
  • Drug testing under any other federal law, like a US Department of Transportation rule

Also, note that drug testing that is administered to evaluate the root cause of a work-related incident that “harmed or may have harmed workers” is allowed if the employer tests all employees who may have contributed to that incident, instead of just the workers who reported injuries.

You May Claim Workers’ Compensation Even If You Test Positive

Employers are required to have a policy in place concerning drug testing of their employees. And after a workplace injury occurs, employers have to administer drug tests as soon as possible after the work accident. And it is worth noting that even if you fail a drug test after a workplace accident, your employer might still need to establish that the accident was related to your drug use.

It really comes down to the specifics of your case. And this is why you should have competent, reliable, and experienced legal counsel when seeking workers’ compensation benefits, especially in light of a failed drug test.