What You Need to Know about Workers' Comp and Substance Abuse

Read the real-life worker's comp senarios below from Manpower Group's employment blog and see if you can tell which employee was truly eligible to receive benefits:

Claimant #1

The first man admittedly smoked marijuana while working at Great Bear Adventure Park. After repairing a fence in a drug-addled state, he decided it would be fun to go inside the fence and feed the grizzly bears. The biggest bear in the park promptly "sat on him and bit his legs and buttocks." He eventually managed to crawl away and was taken to a hospial where he underwent surgeries for various injuries, including a detached knee cap.

Claimant #2

The second man was a painter. According to court documents, he "began drinking alcohol at the work site at about 2pm and continued until he had consumed a small bottle of whiskey and more than half a fifth of vodka." He then "stopped performing any work duties" and removed himself to a first floor closet where he slept for two hours. After he woke up, he stumbled around and then fell down and empty elevator shaft.

Even though both workers were using substances banned from the workplace, one of these men received workers' comp benefits. Presumably, both companies did a post-accident drug test that revealed the subtanceses were involved.

Claimant #1's application for benefits was eventually approved. Even though benefits were intially denied by his place of employment, the employee took the case all the way to the Montana Supreme Court. Though the court found the claim to be "mind-boggling stupid," they ruled in the employee's favor, indicating that the claimants pot-smoking did not significantly contribute to his injuries. They found no evidence that the bear in question was provoked to attack because the claimant was high.

The second claimant was denied because his alcohol comsumption had was a contributing factor to his injuries. The court indicated that the employee fell because he was stumbling around after drinking alcohol and having a nap.

Avoiding workers' comp claims involves having a safe workplace. Employers should take at least minimal precautions to protect employees. In both cases, employers spent a lot of money in courts trying to deny benefits.