Stephen Hasner | Workers' Compensation | December 2, 2019
Drug and alcohol use can lead to serious problems in the workplace. According to reports, 38 to 50% of all workers’ compensation claims are drug and alcohol-related. For this reason, the state of Georgia has taken steps to reduce the use of these substances by workers while on the job.
It’s important to note that you may be asked to submit to drug testing following a claim for workers’ comp. If you do not pass, you may be denied benefits. Further, keep in mind that employers in Georgia can drug test employees even in the absence of a claim, and they actually have an incentive to do so under the state’s workers’ compensation law.
Problems with Drug Use on the Job
Recent studies have shown that drug use is a major issue for employers. In response, the state of Georgia has taken steps to address the effects this problem creates.
By the numbers, people with substance abuse problems are 3 to 5 times more likely to file for workers’ compensation. When successful, it costs 300% more in medical costs and other benefits to pay these claims. Beyond the financial implications, drug use is hard on employers. It increases absenteeism, and studies have shown that employees with substance abuse problems are significantly less productive.
In Georgia, it is common for large companies to have drug-free workplace programs in place. But, it is less common for small and medium-sized companies to implement these same policies. For this reason, state law incentivizes employers of all sizes to work to reduce drug use on the job.
Denial of Workers’ Compensation Benefits
In most cases, workers’ compensation is considered no-fault. This means that an injured employee can collect benefits even if the worker is partially to blame for the accident. However, there is an important exception pertaining to drug and alcohol use.
Under Georgia law, an injured worker or his or her dependents may be denied workers’ comp if the injury or death was caused by the use of alcohol or drugs. Note that an exception to this rule applies if the drug was legally prescribed by a doctor.
Now, as you might imagine, it can be difficult to prove what exactly caused the workplace accident. But, the statute creates what is known as a rebuttable presumption that the injury or death was caused by alcohol or drugs in the following circumstances:
- The employee’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was more than 0.08 (as found in blood, urine, or breath) within 3 hours of the accident;
- Any amount of marijuana or any other drug was detected in the system within 8 hours of the accident; or
- The employee refused to submit to drug or alcohol testing.
This means that if any of the above circumstances are present, the employee must show that the accident was not caused by the intoxication. This requires the worker to submit evidence to prove his or her case, which can be difficult. Failure to do so means that the employee will be denied benefits.
Employer Incentives to Drug Test
Note that under Georgia law, employers can receive a 7.5% discount on their workers’ compensation insurance premiums if they participate in the drug-free workplace program. This is a significant benefit, which encourages a lot of employers to take advantage of it.
The program has the following requirements:
Written policy statement given to all employees
An employer must let all employees and job applicants know that they are subject to drug testing based on reasonable suspicion or any other reason allowed by law. For example, an employer may regularly test all new employees.
The employer must also indicate what will happen if drugs or alcohol are found in an employee’s system or if they refuse to be tested. An example would be termination for failure to pass or take the test. The employer must also state that the results of any test will be kept confidential.
Employers must test new employees in the following situations:
- After offering a position
- Whenever there is reasonable suspicion of drug use
- Whenever medical examinations are required for the classification of an employee
- If the employee enters an employer-sponsored rehabilitation program, or
- Whenever there is an on-the-job injury.
In addition, the employer must provide employee assistance resources, such as rehabilitation programs for people with drug and alcohol problems. Further, in the first year of the program, an employer must offer employee education regarding substance use and its effects on the workplace. Finally, supervisor training on how to spot, document, and report substance abuse is also required.
Keep in mind that an employer is allowed, but not required, to perform random drug testing of any and all employees.