Learn about the laws for drug testing after a
work injury in North Carolina so you can protect your rights
If you’re an injured worker with questions about how drug testing might affect your workers’ compensation claim, you’re not alone. Workers’ compensation laws are complex, especially when it involves understanding the implications of a drug test following a workplace injury.
In this article, we’ll explore what substances are typically tested, scenarios where a positive test may not result in a claim denial, defenses against a positive result, and the potential consequences of refusing a test.
Whether you’re concerned about the impact of prescribed medications or the ramifications of a positive test for illegal substances, this guide is designed to provide clear, comprehensive information to help you understand your rights and the legal landscape surrounding drug testing in workers’ compensation cases.
If you have further questions or would like help filing your workers’ comp claim, reach out to the experienced Charlotte work injury attorneys at Wilder Pantazis Law Group for a free consultation.
Can my workers’ comp claim be denied due to a failed drug test in NC?
The short answer is yes, but not always.
According to North Carolina law, compensation is not payable if the employee’s injury or death was caused by their own intoxication or being under the influence of a controlled substance, as listed in the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act, unless the substance was prescribed by a practitioner.
The law describes “intoxication” and “under the influence” as situations where an employee has consumed so much alcohol or controlled substances that they lose their usual control over their body or mind, or both. This loss of control must be significant enough to impair either or both of these faculties at the time of the injury.
A positive result from a blood or other medical test, conducted in a manner accepted by the scientific community and in line with state and federal law, creates a presumption of impairment.
However, the party who wants to use this test result to deny workers’ compensation benefits (an employer or their insurer) has the responsibility to prove that the impairment was the reason for the injury or accident.
Is a drug test required for workers’ comp in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, whether a drug test is required for workers’ compensation claims can depend on the circumstances of the injury and the policies of the employer.
While North Carolina law does not universally mandate drug testing for all workers’ compensation claims, employers may have their own policies that require drug testing after a workplace accident or injury.
What happens if I refuse to take a drug test after a work injury?
Refusing to take a drug test after a work injury in North Carolina can have significant implications for your workers’ compensation claim. In many cases, refusal to submit to a drug test can be interpreted as an admission of guilt or at least raise suspicions about the presence of drugs or alcohol in your system at the time of the injury.
Here’s what could happen:
- Claim denial. Your employer or their workers’ compensation insurance carrier may deny your claim on the grounds that the refusal to take a drug test implies impairment at the time of the injury.
- Presumption of impairment. While not an outright admission of drug or alcohol use, refusal to take a test could lead to a presumption of impairment, shifting the burden of proof to you to demonstrate that your injury was not related to drug or alcohol use.
- Employment consequences. Apart from affecting your workers’ compensation claim, refusing a drug test might also have employment consequences, depending on your employer’s policies. This could include disciplinary action or even termination.
If you’re considering refusing a drug test following a work injury, it’s advisable to consult with a work injury attorney who specializes in workers’ compensation law. They can provide advice based on the specifics of your situation and help you understand your rights and the potential consequences of refusal.
What shows up on an employee drug test?
In North Carolina, an employee drug test for workers’ compensation typically screens for a range of substances to determine if drug or alcohol use could have contributed to a workplace injury.
The specific substances tested can vary depending on the testing protocols of the employer or the workers’ compensation insurance carrier, but commonly include the following:
- Alcohol. Testing for alcohol is standard, as it can impair judgment and reaction times.
- Common illicit drugs. This includes substances like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and ecstasy (MDMA).
- Prescription drugs. These tests often include opioids (like oxycodone or hydrocodone), benzodiazepines (like Xanax or Valium), amphetamines, and other prescription medications that can affect cognitive and motor functions.
Additionally, any other substances that are controlled under the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act might also be included.
It’s important to note that while the presence of certain prescription drugs may show up in a test, their presence alone does not necessarily disqualify a worker from receiving benefits.
What happens if you fail a drug test for workers’ comp in North Carolina?
If a worker tests positive for drugs or alcohol after a workplace injury, it could potentially impact their workers’ compensation claim. An employer or their insurance carrier might argue that the injury was caused by the worker’s impairment, which can lead to a denial of the claim.
However, the presence of drugs or alcohol in the system doesn’t automatically disqualify a worker from receiving benefits. The key factor is whether the impairment caused the accident or injury.
So, when might a positive drug test not result in a denied workers’ comp claim?
Here are a couple of examples in which a positive drug test wouldn’t necessarily prevent a worker from obtaining workers’ comp benefits after an injury:
A construction worker takes a prescribed pain medication for a back injury. While working, the worker is struck by a piece of heavy equipment that was improperly secured by a coworker and suffers an injury.
In this case, even though the worker has a controlled substance in their system, the injury was directly caused by the mishandling of equipment by another person. The presence of the prescription medication, taken as directed by a physician, is not related to the cause of the accident.
A warehouse worker who used an illegal drug over the weekend is injured at work on Monday while operating a machine that has a history of maintenance issues. Despite using the machine as directed, the worker suffers a serious injury. In this situation, the malfunctioning equipment is the direct cause of the injury, not the worker’s drug use.
The presence of the illegal drug in the worker’s system, while against company policy and the law, did not contribute to the accident. Therefore, the claim for workers’ compensation might still be valid as the injury was due to equipment failure.
Because these cases can be complicated and not always easy to prove, workers facing a situation where drug testing is involved in their workers’ compensation claim should consider seeking legal advice to understand and protect their rights.
What defenses can be used against a positive drug test?
If a worker faces a workers’ compensation claim denial due to a positive drug test, there are several defenses they can use:
- Challenging the test accuracy. Argue that the drug test was inaccurate. This could involve questioning the reliability of the testing method, the handling of the sample or potential contamination.
- Timing of drug use. Demonstrate that the drug use occurred outside of work hours and did not affect the worker’s performance or contribute to the injury. For instance, if the drug was used over the weekend and the accident occurred mid-week, it might not have played a role in the accident.
- Prescription medication. If the positive result was due to legally prescribed medication, provide evidence that it was taken according to the doctor’s instructions and did not impair the worker’s ability to perform their job safely.
- Lack of impairment. Show that, despite the presence of drugs or alcohol in their system, the worker was not impaired at the time of the accident. This could involve witness testimonies or video evidence demonstrating the worker’s normal functioning.
- No causal relationship. Prove that the injury was caused by factors unrelated to drug or alcohol use, such as faulty equipment, errors by other employees or unavoidable circumstances.
- Mitigating circumstances. Explain any extenuating circumstances that might have led to the positive result, such as unwitting consumption (e.g., unknowingly consuming a food or drink that contained the substance).
- Medical reasons. In some cases, certain medical conditions can lead to false positives on drug tests. If applicable, this could be a valid defense.
A lawyer specializing in workers’ compensation can provide guidance on the most appropriate defense strategy based on the specifics of the case and the applicable laws.
Facing a drug test after a work injury in North Carolina? Wilder Pantazis Law Group can help!
Navigating the complexities of workers’ compensation claims, especially in cases involving drug testing after a work-related injury, can be challenging. It’s crucial to have experienced legal guidance to ensure your rights are protected and to maximize your chances of a successful claim.
The knowledgeable work injury attorneys at Wilder Pantazis Law Group have more than 85 years of combined experience assisting workers in North and South Carolina in securing the compensation they rightfully deserve for their injuries.
We understand the financial strain that comes with a work injury, which is why we offer free consultations and operate on a contingency basis, meaning you only pay a fee if we win your case.
Contact Wilder Pantazis Law Group today to learn how we can help protect your rights.
§97-12. Use of intoxicant or controlled substance; willful neglect; willful disobedience of statutory duty, safety regulation or rule. (n.d.). www.ic.nc.gov. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from https://www.ic.nc.gov/ncic/pages/statute/97-12.htm
Chapter 90 – Article 5. (n.d.). www.ncleg.net. https://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/HTML/ByArticle/Chapter_90/Article_5.html