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Can injured employees still get workers' comp if they fail a drug test?

Employers have the right to expect - and enforce - a drug-free workplace. Illegal drug use raises multiple problems. It can not only impair the employee's ability to do the job, but also jeopardize their safety - and that of everyone else.

After a work-related accident or injury occurs, many employers conduct post-accident drug testing on those involved. In some safety-sensitive positions, such as commercial driving, this testing is required.

The critical question

What happens if the injured employee fails the drug test? The next question - and most critical one - is whether the drugs contributed to the accident. If so, the employee won't be eligible for workers' comp benefits, since injuries caused by illegal drug use or intoxication aren't covered.

But what if drug use didn't cause the accident?

A recent example

This issue came up in a tragic case involving two railroad maintenance workers who were fatally struck by a train near Philadelphia last year. The track was supposed to be closed to train traffic at the time of the accident. Toxicology reports showed that both workers had illegal drugs in their systems, but the evidence indicated that other causes - namely, the railroad's lax safety enforcement and the negligence of another employee - were responsible for the accident.

In these situations, the workers (or their loved ones, if the accident was fatal) shouldn't be deprived of benefits. They can still lose their jobs, however.

An uphill battle

Whenever employee drug use comes to light, it's likely to be a hard-fought case. Employers and their insurance companies will look for any reason to deny benefits. They may try to pin the accident on the employee even if the illicit drug use was clearly unconnected. For this reason, it's especially important to work with an experienced attorney who understands the nuances of workers' comp in Pennsylvania.

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