Georgia has strict rules when it comes to impairment in the workplace.
Simply put, intoxication is not allowed. This goes for both narcotics and for alcohol. Many businesses prominently display signs that assert that their business is a drug and alcohol-free zone. If an employer determines that one of their employees was intoxicated on the job, it may lead to immediate termination.
Being impaired on the job can also lead to a denial of a worker’s compensation claim. However, it’s important to understand:
Just being impaired is NOT enough to outright deny a worker’s compensation claim.
Standards for denying workers’ comp due to worker impairment
The employer must prove 2 things in order to have a valid affirmative defense to an on-the-job injury.
First, they must prove that the injured worker was impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident. This standard is specific. So even if the injured worker was intoxicated at an earlier or later point, they may still be eligible for workers’ compensation. Rather, the employer must prove that the worker was intoxicated when the accident occured.
Second, the employer must prove that the impairment helped cause the accident. For example, if an individual was drunk and they were working on a roof and lost their balance due to their inebriation and fell, this may constitute causation. As a result, any subsequent injury resulting from the fall can be properly denied from a workers’ compensation perspective.
How to prove a worker was impaired
Proving that an individual was intoxicated on the job can be confirmed through eyewitness testimony, or via drug tests subsequent to the accident.
The first action item that many employers require injured workers to do once an injury has been reported is to take a drug test. Georgia law requires that the test be performed within 8 hours of the injury in order for the “rebuttable presumption” that the injured worker was intoxicated at the time of the accident to apply.
In other words, if you were given a drug test more than 8 hours after your injury or accident, then the results of the test is not an affirmative defense to deny your workers’ compensation benefits.
What about marijuana and workers’ compensation?
The intoxication defense in Georgia applies to both alcohol and all illegal narcotics, including marijuana.
Kansas appears to be changing the role that marijuana plays in the workers’ compensation system and removing it from the list of banned substances of drugs in the workplace. This proposed law would alter the impairment list and eliminate the conclusive presumption that injured workers who test positive for certain levels of drugs following an injury are not entitled to workers’ compensation.
To be clear, Georgia has not yet taken this step.
In fact, recreational marijuana is still not legal in Georgia.
However, there is a movement to legalize marijuana in the state, and to do so will have consequences in the workers’ compensation arena. If such a law passes, and an individual tests positive for marijuana subsequent to an accident, they would no longer be considered “impaired.”