This worker’s supervisor mistakenly hit a button that started a machine and crushed the employee’s arm. The worker’s post-injury drug test was positive for pot, a violation of company policy. Will the employee get workers’ compensation benefits?
First, the details on what happened: Angela Tolle worked for Spherion of Mid-Ohio Inc. On Oct. 8, 2013, Tolle’s arm was crushed when her supervisor “hit a wrong button” while Tolle was loading a braider. While at the hospital, a drug screen resulted in a positive test for marijuana.
Spherion fired Tolle because the positive drug test was a violation of company policy.
Tolle filed for temporary total disability (TTD) benefits under workers’ comp. The company denied the claim, and on its first pass through the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, the denial was upheld.
But then a staff hearing officer found Tolle was eligible for TTD. Spherion took the case to an Ohio appeals court.
The court appointed a magistrate to review the case. The magistrate recommended Tolle receive TTD benefits.
The biggest issue before the court was whether the “workplace abandonment theory” applied in this case.
Under Ohio law, employees can be said to have abandoned employment if they violated a known workplace rule. In this case, Spherion’s policy stated, “Failing a drug test will result in termination.”
But, previous Ohio case law stated workplace abandonment may not preclude TTD compensation if the pre-injury behavior is discovered after the injury.
In the previous case, a truck pulling away from a loading dock caused an employee to fall from the dock to the ground and suffer injuries. A post-injury drug test was positive for marijuana and opiates. The employee was fired, and he applied for TTD benefits. In this precedent-setting case for Ohio, the court found the employee should receive the workers’ comp benefits.
That was exactly the case here. Even though Tolle was found to have used pot before her injury, the company found out about it after she was hurt.
There was also no link between Tolle’s drug use and her injury. The injury was caused by the accidental start-up of the machine by her supervisor.
(Angela M. Tolle v. Spherion of Mid-Ohio Inc., Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth Appellate District, No. 14AP-717, 9/3/15)