Can my workers’ compensation claim be denied for failing a post-accident drug test?

If you’ve been injured in a workplace accident, keep in mind that your employer is allowed to request a drug test to determine whether you were under the influence of any illegal substances at the time of the accident. A failed test won’t necessarily prevent you from obtaining compensation for your injuries, but it will make the process of settling your claim more difficult.

How Long Does My Employer Have to Request a Drug Test?

Under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law, an employer is permitted to deny an otherwise payable claim if the presence of “any amount of marijuana” or other controlled substance is revealed by a drug test administered within eight hours of the workplace accident.

Urine tests are the most common, but blood and breath tests are also sometimes used. Workplace drug tests typically look for five categories of illegal substances.

  • Amphetamines such as meth, speed, crank, or ecstasy
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates such as heroin, opium, codeine, or morphine
  • Phencyclidine (PCP or angel dust)

If a test is performed more than eight hours after the accident, the results may not properly be used to deny an otherwise compensable claim.  

All Georgia employees, whether they work for small family-owned businesses or national firms like Wal-Mart or Lowes, have the same protections regarding drug tests after a workplace accident.

What Happens If I Refuse to Take a Drug Test?

It might seem like the easiest way to handle the situation would be to simply refuse to submit to a drug test administered by your employer. However, this approach simply won’t work. Refusing a drug test has the same legal effect as failing the test, since it’s assumed that someone with nothing to hide would be willing to comply with the request to expedite the process of receiving benefits.

What Are My Rights After a Failed Drug Test?

If a drug test reveals the presence of illegal substances in your system, this doesn’t necessarily mean your claim will be denied. The law states that a “rebuttable presumption” arises that the accident was caused by the use of an illegal substance, and the burden falls on the claimant to prove otherwise.

After a failed drug test, the burden of proof is placed on the injured worker to demonstrate that the accident and resulting injuries were not caused by the drugs or alcohol in that person's system. How easy this is to accomplish depends greatly on the circumstances surrounding your injuries. For example, if you were stacking packages at United Parcel Service or FedEx and suffered a broken arm and a concussion after you were hit by a coworker who lost control of a forklift, this injury obviously has nothing to do with your substance use. However, if you were the one driving the forklift, you’d need to prove that you lost control due to a factor other than drug-related impairment.

Barring the presence of a failed drug test, fault or negligence aren’t factors in determining eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits. If you had no illegal drugs in your system, you aren’t required to prove your employer was negligent in creating an unsafe work environment or that your own conduct didn’t cause the accident.

How Can an Attorney Protect My Right to Compensation?

You’re not required to retain an attorney to receive workers’ compensation benefits, but having an advocate on your side can be particularly helpful when you’re worried about how a failed drug test will affect your claim.

Your attorney can gather evidence to establish that your injuries weren’t caused by illegal drug use, including witness testimony, medical records, or surveillance footage. If appropriate, your attorney could also challenge the legitimacy of the drug test itself, such as questioning whether the proper chain of custody was followed for the urine sample you provided.

The legal team at Rechtman & Spevak is committed to helping Georgia residents receive the workers’ compensation benefits they need to recover from their injuries. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation case review.