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Issues surrounding substance abuse and recovery in the workplace can present unique challenges for employers, particularly when it comes to navigating workers’ compensation claims. In part one of this three part article, we’ll explore the implications of workers’ compensation laws in cases involving substance abuse, including intoxication at the time of injury, and discuss strategies for employers to effectively manage these situations.

Workers’ Compensation Exclusions

Injured worker in manufacturing setting is looked after by 2 co-workers.

One of the key considerations in workers’ compensation cases involving substance abuse is the exclusion for coverage of work-related injuries if the employee is intoxicated at the time of the incident. This exclusion is specific to “intoxication”, without definition as to whether that includes alcohol as well as drugs. Thus, the interpretation of “intoxication” can vary, leading to challenges in applying this exclusion effectively.

Proving Intoxication

Proving that an employee was intoxicated at the time of the injury can be difficult.  The burden of proof falls on the employer, who must demonstrate that the employee’s intoxication caused the work injury. In cases where immediate medical care is not sought, such as those involving less severe injuries, obtaining conclusive evidence of intoxication becomes even more challenging, if not impossible.

Challenges and Considerations

In practice, relying solely on coworker testimony or suspicion of intoxication is often insufficient to meet the threshold required to prove intoxication in workers’ compensation cases.  Administrative Law Judges may not accept anecdotal evidence without concrete proof, such as blood alcohol test results. Yet, employers must be aware of limits on their ability to conduct testing when there is not a pre-existing approved substance testing policy approved by the Maine Department of Labor (with some exceptions, including CDL drivers).


Group of business people working on serious paperwork

Navigating workers’ compensation claims involving substance abuse requires a nuanced understanding of relevant laws and regulations, as well as proactive management strategies on the part of employers. While proving intoxication in these cases can be challenging, employers should implement comprehensive policies and procedures that prohibit substance use in the workplace and be aware of this potential defense in the event it may be applicable.

This article kicks off a three-part series on the intricacies of workers’ compensation laws related to substance abuse and recovery in the workplace. Remember, for specific guidance tailored to your situation, consulting legal counsel and regulatory authorities is essential.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll explore strategies for supportive workplace policies. Additionally, don’t miss out on a downloadable recording of a 1-hour workshop by our attorney Anne-Marie Storey on this vital topic. Opt-in here to access valuable insights and advice on navigating substance abuse and recovery within your organization.

Join our Annual Employment Conference waitlist to receive the latest employment updates and early registration access! Sign up here.

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