Obscure Defenses: Drugs and Alcohol (Part 2 of 3)

Drug and alcohol use can result in a disputed workers’ compensation claim in Michigan.


Yesterday’s blog post was about intentional and willful misconduct being used to dispute workers’ compensation benefits. This defense allows insurance companies to refuse payment of wage loss and medical treatment based upon actions of the employee. Benefits that are supposed to be guaranteed under Michigan law suddenly disappear.

Unfortunately, intentional and willful misconduct is not the only defense in the insurance company playbook. Drugs and alcohol can also be used to dispute payment of workers’ compensation benefits. Please remember that every case is different so check with an experienced attorney about individual situations.

Drug and alcohol use are not specifically prohibited but disputes occur under the misconduct section. Medical and wage loss benefits can be disputed when drug or alcohol use results in a work injury. Intoxication is the relevant factor when making this determination.

Drug and alcohol use are not automatic defenses. The fact that an employee had illicit drugs in his or her system is not enough to dispute workers’ compensation benefits. The insurance company must have some evidence of intoxication to use it as a misconduct defense.

Our clients frequently get drug tested after a work injury. This is standard procedure for most employers and it should not be taken personally. However, it should not be assumed that an employee was intoxicated just because he or she fails a drug test. We had a client who lost her arm in an accident and the insurance company wanted a drug test before emergency surgery could be performed.

Many employers also have strict rules against drug use in the workplace. A positive marijuana test can be used a basis to terminate employment even when intoxication cannot be shown. Medical treatment will continue to be paid but wage loss might be stopped. The dispute is based upon the termination and unavailability to perform light duty. This is a slippery slope and it is best to speak with an experienced lawyer should this occur. We once tried a case where the business owner admitted to his own frequent marijuana use and his drug policy was not strictly enforced against employees.

It does not matter that Michigan law allows individuals to use marijuana. Employees with valid medical marijuana cards are not shielded from employer work rules. The same applies to individuals who use marijuana on a recreational basis.

Evidence of alcohol use is relevant and will be explored should a matter proceed to trial. We had a client who had empty beer cans in his car and this was used by the insurance company to show that he must have been intoxicated while on-the-job. Blood analysis showed that he was not intoxicated at the time of the workplace accident.

We recommend that employees contact an attorney if their workers’ compensation claim has been denied based upon drug or alcohol use. This is especially true when evidence shows that a person was not intoxicated at the time of injury. Watch out for company rules that are not strictly enforced regarding positive drug tests.

Michigan Workers Comp Lawyers never charges a fee to evaluate a potential case. Our law firm has represented injured and disabled workers exclusively for more than 35 years. Call (844) 201-9497 for a free consultation today.

Related information:

Medical marijuana user alleges job offer was rescinded after failing drug test

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