It’s not a given that employees who test positive for pot use will have workers’ comp benefits denied. What was the deciding factor in this case?
Michael Trent worked for Stark Metal Sales in Ohio. On June 30, 2011, Trent was injured at work when a large piece of steel fell on his legs.
Nursing notes from the hospital say when he was told that he had to give a urine sample, Trent said he couldn’t because he had done so before the injury occurred.
A urine screen was performed a week later, and Trent tested positive for marijuana metabolite.
Trent filed for workers’ comp benefits. The Ohio Industrial Commission approved his claim. Stark appealed, and a trial was held in a common pleas court.
Stark wanted to present testimony that, on the day he was injured, Trent told another employee he wouldn’t be able to pass a drug test.
The judge decided not to allow that testimony.
During cross-examination by Stark’s lawyer – testimony the jury didn’t hear – Trent said before he was taken to the hospital, he did tell a co-worker he couldn’t pass the urine test because he had smoked marijuana and believed it would still be in his system. He admitted he didn’t comply with Stark’s drug-free workplace rule, but he said it had been about two weeks before his injury that he last used pot.
The trial court upheld the decision to award comp benefits to Trent. Stark then went to the Ohio Court of Appeals.
Stark argued that by having marijuana in his system, Trent violated a provision in the company’s employee handbook and therefore wasn’t in the scope and course of employment at the time he was injured.
The court said whether Stark violated company policy wasn’t the issue.
Ohio’s workers’ comp law says if an employee is intoxicated or under the influence of a controlled substance not prescribed by a doctor, and this was the proximate cause of the injury, the employee won’t receive workers’ comp benefits.
But the law also states the drug test must be administered within 32 hours of an injury. That wasn’t the case with Trent. The drug test occurred a week later.
The court said since a qualifying drug test wasn’t administered within 32 hours of the injury, it can’t conclude Trent was under the influence when he was injured.
The appeals court also ruled the trial court acted properly when it decided not to allow the testimony that Trent had told another employee that he wouldn’t be able to pass the drug test.
In many states, if it can be shown that intoxication or use of illegal drugs is the primary cause of a workplace injury, workers’ comp benefits will be denied.
But like so much else in the legal system, if the workers’ comp law isn’t followed to the letter – such as not performing a drug test within the required time period after an injury – it will be that much more difficult to show alcohol or drug use was the primary cause.
What do you think about this case? Let us know in the comments below.
(Michael G. Trent v. Stark Metal Sales Inc., Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth Appellate District, No. 2014CA00141, 3/23/15)