When a retail worker was injured several years ago by a customer who ran over her foot with a shopping cart, she sustained painful contusions to her foot and toe. She was able to return to return to work if she was able to sit 95 percent of the time, per physician's orders. The business accommodated this and gave her sedentary work.
However, when she reported for work one morning, the store manager asked that she submit to an alcohol test. She claims she had been drinking the night before, and the test showed that her blood alcohol level was .108. Though the business terminated her for being under the influence of alcohol while on the clock, she sought total disability benefits starting from that date.
Her benefits were denied by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court because she was terminated for violating the business' substance abuse policy, which demonstrated a lack of good faith on her behalf. The employee argued that she had not behaved in a drunken manner, and suggested that the narcotic pain medication she was prescribed could have caused her body to retain the alcohol. However, sufficient evidence to prove this was not supplied to the court, and the court found that her blood alcohol level was due to voluntary alcohol consumption.
A complex workers' compensation case such as this raises many questions and concerns. It could be possible to argue that the business was retaliating against the worker due to her injury, and may have tampered with the results of the test or specifically tested her because they knew she had been drinking the night before. On the other side, the employee could have been drinking to cope with the pain of her injuries and the medication impeded the flushing of the alcohol from her system.
This case shows the old adage "there are two sides to every story," but in the end, it is the decision of the court that rules. If you are seeking workers' comp benefits for an injury, it is important to know that if your own negligence or misconduct is considered to be the cause of the accident, it could derail your benefits.
Source: Risk & Insurance, "Termination for being under influence of alcohol derails benefits award," Aug. 2, 2012