Will You Lose Workers’ Compensation Benefits if You Fail a Drug Test?

Understand how drug testing could impact your workers’ comp claim

By Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 29, 2023

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Unfortunately, workplace accidents are common. Work-related injuries can significantly disrupt individuals’ lives, from health issues to financial burdens. 

For employees who suffer a work-related injury, workers’ compensation benefits are designed to help cover the costs of medical treatment, lost wages, and lost earning potential.  

Many employers require their employees to undergo drug trusting to ensure a safe and healthy working environment. Drug testing can impact an employee’s eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits. If an employee fails a drug test, the employer or workers’ comp insurance company may point to drug use as the cause of impairment resulting in the workplace accident.  

However, getting a positive drug test does not mean an employee will definitely lose their workers’ comp claim. This article will address: 

  • Can your employer require you to take a drug test? 
  • Will you lose your workers’ comp claim if you fail a drug test? 
  • Your legal options for pursuing a workers’ comp claim 

If you are concerned your benefits will be denied due to alcohol or drug use, consider speaking with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney about your case. 

What Is Workers’ Compensation? 

“Workers’ compensation is a law that allows people who are employees to receive benefits when they’ve been injured at work,” says Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney Alfred J. Carlson

Workers’ comp “covers wage loss benefits to supplement an injured worker’s income while they’re out of work, and medical benefits to cover the employee’s medical bills when injured at work,” says Carlson. 

Every state has its own workers’ compensation system. While workers’ compensation law varies from state to state, most states require employers to have workers’ compensation insurance to cover foreseeable workplace injuries.  

An important feature of workers’ comp is that it is generally a “no-fault system.”  To get workers’ comp benefits, an injured worker doesn’t have to prove their employer was at fault for their injury. The worker just has to show they were injured while working for their employer.  

In fact, workers’ comp claims function as an alternative to a lawsuit. By filing a workers’ comp claim and getting benefits, employees forego suing their employer. This allows many injured workers to get compensation without the burdens of litigation. 

Why Do Employers Require Drug Testing? 

Employers generally require drug testing to ensure a safe, drug-free workplace. Employers have an interest in making sure employees are productive and fit for the job.  

Employers generally require drug testing: 

  • Before hiring an employee. Employers are generally free to make drug testing a condition of employment. Along with background checks, drug tests help the employer ensure the employee will be a good fit. A prospective hire can refuse to take the drug test, but this usually means rejecting the job offer. 
  • In the course of employment. Employers may also require an employee to undergo drug testing during their employment. Most states require employers to give some reason or justification for requiring a drug test during employment. For example, employers must have a “reasonable suspicion” that the employee is using drugs, or believe drug testing is necessary to ensure the health or safety of the employee and their coworkers. 

Drug testing is typically done through urine tests but may also involve blood tests or hair samples. Substances that are usually tested for include:  

  • Marijuana (THC) 
  • Amphetamines 
  • Opiates 
  • Cocaine 
  • Alcohol  

State law may set requirements about how long an employer has to conduct a drug test after a workplace accident. Employers must comply with the regulations when they give drug tests. To understand all your state’s requirements around drug testing and worker’s comp, speak with a workers’ comp attorney in your area.  

Do You Need To Take a Drug Test if You Were Injured at Work?  

No federal law generally prohibits or requires workplace drug testing in the United States. In the absence of a federal drug testing law, it’s left to the states to enact laws regulating workplace drug testing.  

Carlson emphasizes that workers’ compensation and drug testing laws “[vary] from state to state.” So, the answer to whether you must take a drug test depends on where you live.  

In general, however, an employer cannot:  

  • Force you to take a drug test. Employees can always refuse to take a drug test. However, refusing a test can have negative consequences, including termination. 
  • Retaliate against the employee. According to guidance from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), employers can require drug testing if it’s not for a retaliatory purpose or to discourage an employee from filing a workers’ comp claim. 

Because state laws around drug testing and workers’ comp vary, Carlson urges injured workers to seek legal advice from an experienced workers’ comp lawyer to ensure the best outcomes in their claim.  

Should You Refuse To Take a Drug Test?  

As noted above, employees can always refuse to take a drug test. However, your refusal could be used against you. 

In Pennsylvania, for example, “an employer can request that an employee take a drug test in connection with a work-related injury,” says Carlson. “Failure to take a drug test, whether a work-related injury was involved or not, can lead to an employee’s termination.”  

“Typically, what the employer is trying to find out with the drug test is whether the person was using drugs at the time of their work-related injury,” he says.  

In Pennsylvania and other states, if you fail a drug test, the employer can use that “as a defense in connection with the workers’ compensation claim.”  

In other words, if your employer or insurance company can show that you wouldn’t have been injured unless you were impaired or intoxicated at the time of the workplace accident, “that could be a defense to the workers’ compensation claim and could bar an employee’s right to receive workers’ compensation benefits,” says Carlson.  

What Are Your Legal Options if You Failed a Drug Test? 

Even though a failed drug test can result in losing workers’ comp, it doesn’t necessarily mean your workers’ compensation claim will be denied. You may still get workers’ comp if your drug test results are positive after a work-related injury. 

The mere presence of drugs or alcohol in your system at the time of the accident doesn’t automatically prove that the accident happened because of drugs or alcohol. The burden of proof is on the employer or insurance company to show the drugs or alcohol are what caused the incident.  

If you suspect your employer will use your positive drug test to deny your workers’ comp benefits, it’s essential to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. A workers’ comp attorney will understand the law in your state and be able to fight for the best outcome in your case.  

Questions for a Workers’ Comp Attorney 

Many attorneys provide free consultations to prospective clients. These consultations allow the attorney to hear the facts of your case and for you to determine if the attorney or law firm meets your needs. 

To see whether an attorney or law firm is a good fit, ask informed questions such as: 

  • What are your legal fees? 
  • Do you charge on a contingency fee basis or some other way? 
  • What is your experience with workers’ compensation cases? 
  • Am I required to take a drug test? 
  • How will a failed drug test impact my workers’ comp? 

Look for a workers’ compensation attorney in the Super Lawyers directory to help with workers’ comp issues. 

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