Safety News Alert has published some advice for employers on what they can do about employees who are on prescription drugs that cause drowsiness or that can interfere with an employee’s ability to do his job.
Our work injury attorneys in Massachusetts know that the issue of prescription drug use– and especially prescription pain killer use– is a big one. In fact, an NBC News report showed an 18 percent jump in the number of workers who tested positive for opiates in 2009, as compared to prior years. While employers may be concerned about their potential liability if a worker on a prescription drug causes injury, those employees who depend upon prescriptions need to know their rights and how the use of a prescription drug can affect a work injury claim.
Workers’ Compensation and Prescription Drugs
Workers have the right to undergo appropriate medical treatment and to treat their health problems as recommended by a doctor. This means if a worker is told to take a prescription drug because of a health issue, he or she should generally be able to do so without risk to his employment. This does not, however, mean that workers can come to work on medications that make doing their work impossible. The specific action that an employer should take when an employee’s prescription could create a risk has not yet been clearly established. As Safety News Alert reports, some workers who were fired for taking prescription pills have sued their employers for wrongful termination.
Regardless of the issue of whether an employer can fire an employee for prescription drug use, the question of workers’ comp benefits is a separate matter. Workers’ compensation provides broad protection for employees who get hurt in the workplace, and even when an employee’s own actions contribute to causing a workplace injury, the worker may still be able to receive benefits.
While employers can typically disqualify a worker from making a workers’ compensation claim if the employee is drunk at the time of the injury or is on an illegal drug, the same rule doesn’t necessarily apply when a worker is on a prescription medication at the time of the injury.
NBC News reported that many workers were found to have opiates from prescription pain killers in their system when tested after a workplace accident, and that employers MAY be able to get out of a workers’ compensation claim if the employer can prove the drug was the direct cause of the accident or injury.
However, past cases where employers have tried to deny workers’ compensation benefits on the basis of drug test results have not all been found in favor of the employer. In fact, employers have been obligated in the past to pay work injury claims even when a drug test revealed opiates because there was no evidence of how much of the drug was in the employee’s system at the time of the injury and it was thus not clear what role the use of prescription painkillers played in causing the accident.
For workers, this means even if you were on prescription medications at the time you are hurt, your employer cannot automatically deny your workers’ comp claim. If your claim has been denied, it is advisable to consult with an experienced work injury lawyer for help learning if your employer’s actions were proper.
If you or a loved one has been injured on the job in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim– 1-888-367-2900.
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Workers’ Parents Win $1M in Wrongful Death Suit, Massachusetts Worker’s Compensation Lawyers Blog, August 30, 2013