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Did she refuse post-accident drug test? City says yes, worker says no

A claims examiner was suspended for 10 days after refusing to complete a post-accident drug test. A trial court overturned her suspension, and her employer appealed. What did the appeals court say?

Alexis Jones, a claims examiner for the city of Cleveland Department of Law, suffered a slip-and-fall injury at work in May 2009. The city directed her to submit to a required post-accident drug and alcohol test.

The city’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Policy (DATP) states that:

“When a post-accident test is ordered, and the employee refuses to test, or the result of the test is positive for drugs and/or alcohol, the employee may be disqualified for compensation and benefits under the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Act.”

The DATP also states that an employee who tests positive or refuses the test is subject to disciplinary action. Refusal to test in the DATP is defined as unauthorized departure from:

  • the work site following notification of testing, and
  • the testing facility prior to testing.

At the testing center, Jones said she didn’t want to take the test and she wasn’t injured. She was told she couldn’t leave the premises, and she was stopped when she tried to do so.

She underwent a medical exam, which revealed no evidence of a physical injury. A breath alcohol test revealed zero trace of alcohol.

But then Jones refused to give a urine sample. On the first attempt, she told the lab her urine sample failed because “the cup broke and fell into the toilet.”

Eventually, Jones left without giving a urine sample because the “workday had ended and she had a meeting that evening regarding her dying father’s end of life care.”

The following morning, Jones offered to give a urine sample. However, she was dismissed from work and sent home for the day. After a hearing, Jones received a 10-day suspension for refusing the drug test.

Jones filed an administrative appeal of the suspension to the common pleas court. The trial court overturned the city’s suspension, finding that the city:

  • didn’t have a sufficient basis to find that Jones refused testing, and
  • wasn’t authorized to suspend Jones because disqualification of workers’ compensation benefits is the exclusive discipline for refusal to take a post-accident test pursuant to the city’s DATP.

Suspension is overturned

The city appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals of Ohio, where it lost again.

The appeals court said Jones’ unauthorized departure from the testing facility didn’t automatically constitute a “refusal to test.” The court noted that Jones:

  • submitted to a breath alcohol test
  • offered to provide a urine sample the following morning, and
  • had family circumstances that caused her to leave the facility before she could provide a urine sample.

The trial court also ordered the city to purge Jones’ records of the disciplinary suspension and reimburse her for the loss of salary caused by the suspension.

Since the appeals court agreed Jones didn’t technically refuse the test, it upheld the purging of her records and the reimbursement of salary, as well.

What do you think of this case? Let us know in the comments section.

(Jones v. City of Cleveland Civil Service Commission, Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eight District, Cuyahoga County, No. 103143, 5/26/16).

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