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A worker whose thumb and finger were crushed in a workplace accident is not entitled to workers compensation because he tested positive for marijuana and opioids.
In Allen v. Employbridge Holdings Co., a three-judge panel of the Arkansas Court of Appeals, Division III in Little Rock on Wednesday unanimously affirmed an Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission decision to deny the worker benefits because he failed to prove by a preponderance of evidence that his accident was unrelated to his drug use.
Corey Allen worked for a temporary staffing agency moving large conveyor-belt parts. On Oct. 24, 2017, Mr. Allen returned to his station after his lunch break when he tried to adjust a lifting strap around a part while lowering it, but his right thumb and index finger were crushed in the process. A co-worker had to use a forklift to remove the conveyer belt part off his hand.
At the hospital, he was given a drug test, which came back positive for marijuana and opioids. He was terminated for violating the company’s drug policy but sought workers compensation benefits. His employer argued that his injury was caused by his use of drugs and not compensable. An administrative law judge held that Mr. Allen’s injury was compensable, but a 2-1 holding by the commission reversed the decision. Mr. Allen appealed, arguing that the commission’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence.
Arkansas law created a rebuttable presumption that a worker who tests positive for illegal drugs is not entitled to workers comp unless he can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that drugs “did not substantially occasion” the injury.
Mr. Allen argued that he did not use marijuana on the day of the accident and his team leader testified that Mr. Allen did not appear “wobbly” or intoxicated on the day of the incident. However, a co-worker testified that Mr. Allen’s eyes appeared bloodshot at the beginning of his shift and that he believed Mr. Allen “wasn’t paying attention to the job he was doing” when the injury occurred. In addition, two employees testified that Mr. Allen stated that he did not want to take the drug test at the hospital.
Although Mr. Allen established that he sustained a work-related injury to his right thumb and index finger, the appellate court found that on the basis of his testimony that he failed to show by a preponderance of evidence that the drugs in his system did not contribute to his injury. The court held that the commission did not err in finding that Mr. Allen was “not a credible witness” and that the evidence demonstrates that his accident was caused by carelessness and flawed judgment as a result of his use of marijuana.
New drug tests set to hit the market in 2020 are aiming to zero in on marijuana impairment similar to that of an alcohol breathalyzer and could offer employers solutions in the ambiguous landscape of both safety and compliance with federal drug and disability laws, experts say.