Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system of insurance that provides coverage for employees who have been injured or become ill on the job. In other words, if you are hurt or become ill because of your job (such as through an accident or exposure to toxic chemicals), you won’t have to prove that your employer was negligent in order to receive benefits. In New Jersey, all employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
The advantage of the workers’ compensation system is that it provides a relatively straightforward way for employees to receive benefits — including for medical treatment, lost wages and/or disability — if they are hurt or become ill at work. This is true even if you became ill or were injured because of something that you did, such as drop a heavy piece of equipment on your foot.
However, there are some exceptions to the no-fault rule. In some situations, if you were intoxicated at the time that an accident occurred, you may be denied benefits. Learn more from a skilled New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney.
Drug Testing After a Workplace Accident
As a general rule, workers’ compensation covers all personal injuries and death arising out of and in the course of employment — without regard to the negligence of the employer. However, that does not meet that ALL injuries and illnesses are covered. There are specific exceptions written into the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act, including for when intoxication or the unlawful use of controlled dangerous substances are the cause of the injury or death.
In short, this means that if your workplace injury was caused by your own intoxication, then you may not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. This is typically proven through drug testing after an accident causing injury or death.
In New Jersey, state law does not regulate drug testing employees in the private sector. Courts have laid out certain guidelines that must be followed when employers choose to drug test their workers. In Hennessey v. Coastal Eagle Point Oil Co., the New Jersey Supreme Court strongly implied that — except in safety-sensitive positions — privacy rights forbade random drug testing.
Under Hennessey, employees who are not in safety-sensitive positions can only be tested “for cause,” and all testing programs must have certain procedural due process guidelines in place. All testing programs should adhere to the following general guidelines:
- Implement a procedure that allows as much privacy and dignity as possible;
- Provide notice, close in time to the beginning of a testing program but sufficient to provide adequate advance warning, that announces the program, details the method for selecting employees to be tested, warns employees of the lingering effects of certain drugs in the system, explains how the sample will be analyzed, and notifies the employees of the consequences of testing positive or refusing to take the test;
- Conduct only those tests that are necessary to determine the presence of drugs in the urine; and
- Refrain from disclosing information obtained as a result of testing.
This case demonstrates that while employers can conduct drug tests, they must follow specific procedures so that your privacy rights are not violated. If you are involved in a workplace accident, that will likely give your employer cause to request a drug test, provided that a written testing policy is in place at the time of the accident.
A drug test could test for a variety of substances by analyzing samples of hair, urine, blood, breath and/or sweat. These substances may include:
- Amphetamines, such as meth or speed
- Cocaine or crack
- Opiates, such as heroin, morphine or oxycodone
In addition, your employer could test for the presence of alcohol in your system after an accident.
Importantly, in 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a rule that is designed to deter discrimination or retaliation against employees who report workplace injuries. Under the rule, drug testing should be limited to situations where there is a reasonable probability that drug use contributed to the accident.
How a Positive Drug Test Impacts Your Eligibility for Workers’ Comp
If your employer requests a drug test after a workplace injury, and it comes back positive, it does not necessarily mean that you will not be able to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, it is only those injuries and death that were caused by intoxication or drug use that are excluded from coverage. Even if you test positive for drugs or alcohol after an accident, if intoxication did not cause the accident, then the injury is still considered compensable.
There are many other factors that could cause a workplace injury, even if you were intoxicated. For example, you could have been working on a piece of defective machinery at the time that you were injured. If you had been sober, you may have avoided being hurt by noticing it sooner — but the ultimate cause of your injury was the defective machinery, not your intoxication.
In addition, now that medical marijuana has been legalized in New Jersey, you may be protected in other ways if your drug test turns up positive for marijuana use. Not only can you demonstrate that you were using marijuana legally, but you can also show that it was being used for a medical condition. In addition, your New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney can argue that the presence of marijuana in a drug test is not, by itself, sufficient to show intoxication at the time of an accident.
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Although it was set up as a no-fault system, the workers’ compensation process can be complex. This is particularly true if you happen to test positive on a post-accident drug test. If this occurs, your employer or the insurance company may unfairly try to deny your benefits.
The attorneys of Bross & Frankel understand that each of our clients has a different situation — and that each deserves aggressive advocacy to help them get the compensation that they deserve. With more than 20 years of experience, we are dedicated to helping people like you. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation, call t us today at 856-795-8880 or contact us online.