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Pot dispensary worker partakes, suffers panic attack, falls off fence: Workers’ comp?

A workers’ comp insurer didn’t want to issue benefits to a pot dispensary worker who smoked a joint and then was injured. What was the ruling in this case? 

Brooke Woodard was hired as a receptionist for a medical marijuana dispensary in Oregon. Two days before it was set to open, its manager asked Woodard to come to work for training.

She attended an orientation meeting, and afterward the manager and one of the owners invited all employees to smoke joints at the dispensary. An Oregon Workers’ Compensation Board document says Woodard joined other employees in doing so.

Not long after, Woodward suffered her injury, according to the WCB document:

“When they finished smoking, the employees resumed preparing for the dispensary’s opening. Claimant (Woodard) was asked by several co-workers to assist them in buying office supplies. On the way to the store, claimant suffered a panic attack as a result of her marijuana intoxication. Her co-workers returned her to the parking lot of the dispensary, and the claimant exited the car. Feeling unsafe, claimant ran/somersaulted across the parking lot to a retaining wall topped by chain-link fence. She climbed the fence and dropped about 15 feet to the ground below, fracturing her left ankle.”

Woodard filed a workers’ comp claim for her broken ankle. The insurer denied the claim, saying it wasn’t caused by a work exposure.

On appeal, an administrative law judge ruled Woodard should be awarded benefits. The Oregon WCB recently ruled on another appeal by the insurer.

The insurance company argued the medical marijuana dispensary became an illegal enterprise when its employees illegally smoked marijuana.

The WCB rejected that argument, noting Woodard was hired for a legal reason, to work as a receptionist. The board said it wouldn’t declare the dispensary an illegal business because its employees engaged in an illegal activity on the premises.

The next question was whether Woodard was being paid at the time of her training. The WCB said although she wasn’t being paid, there was “a contract for hire.” Woodard was also told to attend the training. The WCB rejected questions about whether Woodard was paid for her time as a reason to deny her claim.

The insurer also argued that Woodard’s claim should be denied under part of Oregon’s workers’ comp law which states an “injury incurred while engaging in or performing, or as a result of engaging in or performing, any recreational or social activities primarily for the workers’ personal pleasure” isn’t compensable.

The WCB said in this case, the question is whether smoking pot was “incidental to employment.”

The dispensary’s owner and manager invited and encouraged the staff to participate in smoking weed, and they provided the marijuana. Then, Woodard was expected to stay at work to continue helping with preparation for the dispensary’s opening.

Given those facts, the WCB found Woodard’s injury wasn’t the result of a social or recreational activity engaged in primarily for personal pleasure and she should receive workers’ comp benefits.

(In the Matter of the Compensation of Brooke A. Woodard, Oregon WCB Case No. 15-04848, 2/8/17)

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