Employers Deny Work Comp for Marijuana
In Colorado, workers’ compensation is a type of private insurance coverage that employers must provide for all employees, even employees who use medicinal and recreational Marijuana. The definition of employee is very expansive in an attempt to provide coverage for all workers. For workers who are hurt while working or develop occupational diseases, workers’ compensation insurance pays for medical expenses and partial wage replacement during periods of temporary disability. It may also provide money for permanent impairment benefits for those who qualify. Today, Colorado Employers and insurers are denying work comp for Marijuana.
Legalization Is Causing a Significant Increase in Consumption
As soon as Colorado legalized both recreational and medicinal Marijuana, usage among Coloradans, both young and old, increased significantly. Now, the state undoubtedly ranks No. 1 in the nation for consumption, according to a new report. The report prepared by investigators with the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) details some of the concrete impacts marijuana legalization has had on Colorado.
According to the RMHIDTA report, Colorado youth do not just rank No. 1 in the nation for marijuana consumption, they are 55% higher than the national average. Adult use in the state also comes up very high, which the report notes is 124% higher than the national average. Although it is not known definitively, these numbers should translate into a corresponding radical increase in worker and injured worker compensation.
Our subjective experience at the Law Office of Donald J. Kaufman is a sharp increase in the testing of injured workers and the illegal reduction and wrongful denial of worker benefits. Although we never encourage getting stoned on the job, there are some things all workers need to know.
“C.R.S. 8-42-112.5. Limitation on payments – use of controlled substances. (1) Nonmedical benefits otherwise payable to an injured worker are reduced by fifty percent where the injury results from the presence in the worker’s system, during working hours, of controlled substances, as defined in section 18-18-102 (5), C.R.S. that are not medically prescribed or of a blood alcohol level at or above 0.10 percent, or at or above an applicable lower level as set forth by federal statute or regulation, as evidenced by a forensic drug or alcohol test conducted by a medical facility or laboratory licensed or certified to conduct such tests.
A duplicate sample from any test conducted must be preserved and made available to the worker for purposes of a second test to be conducted at the Worker’s expense. If the test indicates the presence of such substances or alcohol at such level, it is presumed that the employee was intoxicated and that the injury was due to the intoxication. This presumption may be overcome by clear and convincing evidence.”
The Legal Foundation for Discrimination
With alcohol, there is a presumption of intoxication at 1.0. With Marijuana, the employer must, after an industrial injury: 1. Test and find Marijuana in the injured worker’s system. 2. Keep a sample of the testing material and make it available to the injured worker. 3. And last, and almost impossible, prove that the intoxication caused the injury. If all three criteria are met by the employer or insurance company, the injured worker may suffer from a 50% reduction in lost wage benefits. Medical benefits and all other benefits are unaffected.
So, when an employer or insurance company denies a compensable claim or threatens an injured worker, they do so in bad faith, and most drug tests at the time of injury are designed to unduly harass injured workers. Unfortunately, this harassment is on the increase. The story gets worse. Real discrimination against a legal activity is now becoming as routine as positive drug test results.
Where Insurance Companies and Employers Are Actually Hurting Workers
The real danger zone for the injured workers is found in C.R.S. 8-42-103(1)(g). “In cases where it is determined that a temporarily disabled employee is responsible for termination of employment, the resulting wage loss shall not be attributable to the on-the-job injury.” Many employers have policies concerning employees who test positive for Marijuana. While Amendments 20 and 64 legalized Marijuana in Colorado, it also does not prohibit employers from terminating employees and discriminating against them for marijuana use. While an industrial injury might not have been caused by “intoxication,” is it reasonable to terminate an injured worker for testing positive for marijuana use?
The Colorado Court of Appeals found, in a parallel case, that firing an employee for violation of an employer’s zero-tolerance drug policy after testing positive for Marijuana in a random drug test ordered by the employer is constitutionally permissible and not a violation of the employee’s right. Employer’s policy stated: “[I]f a current employee is substance tested for any reason . . . and the results of the screening are positive for . . . illegal drugs, the employee will be terminated.” The worker was terminated after a positive test and denied unemployment benefits. (Jason M. Beinor v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office of the State of Colorado and Service Group, Colorado Court of Appeals Nos. 12CA0595 & 12CA1704 Arapahoe County District Court No. 11CV1464)
What Do I Do if I Am Injured and Will Test Positive for Marijuana?
In Colorado, it’s “stoned” cold legal to fire an injured worker as a result of a positive drug test in some circumstances, but there are many exceptions. The apparent new focus of employers and insurance companies in Colorado Workers’ Compensation cases is to test injured workers at the time of an industrial injury and then fire the worker for failing a drug test and not because of the industrial injury. Then, the employers and insurers argue the wage loss was the result of the termination, for cause, and not a result of the industrial injury.
We have developed many successful strategies to stop this from happening to our clients. First, legalization has arguably caused an increase in consumption in most demographics; so often, the employer’s zero-tolerance drug policies are very tolerant of marijuana use until an injury occurs. For a policy to be used to deny benefits, it must be actually enforced. Many employers have full knowledge of the employee’s marijuana consumption and do nothing until an injury occurs. The Colorado Court of Appeals allowed for discrimination for an actual “zero-tolerance policy” but made no allowance for a fake mechanism policy.
Often, the employer and employees are marijuana consumers. A rule must be applied equally and enforced to be a legitimate rule for which you can deny benefits. We have cases where the employer has actually given the employee marijuana and then sought to deny benefits for usage after the injury. The courts are very good at the application of good old-fashioned common sense as it applies to rule enforcement. In discovery, we often ask for all previous drug tests administered to all employees and a list of employee names. When no drug tests have ever been given, and all of the co-workers admit to marijuana use, even on the job, it is often apparent to many courts that there are no official “zero tolerance” drug policies.
As the battle over the denial of benefits is fought very early in the claim, and there are numerous defenses and strategies for Work Comp for Marijuana, it is critical that we meet with the injured worker right after the industrial injury to prevent the unjust and discriminatory denial of Colorado Workers’ Compensation lost wage benefits. Marijuana usage should not ever result in the denial of Colorado Workers’ Compensation benefits. We can help the injured worker, in most circumstances, avoid harassment, discrimination, and the undeserved denial of lost wages. Call me if you need help. -Don Kaufman (970) 947-1776