HR Strange But True!
August 12, 2005

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that injured employees may not be denied workers' compensation if they were stoned at the time of the injury.

The high court (no pun intended) voted unanimously to void a 1999 law that said employees who tested positive for alcohol impairment or illegal drug use after an on-the-job injury lost eligibility for weekly benefits and coverage of their medical bills.

The ruling involved a worker named David Grammatico, whose job consisted of installing drywall while walking around on 42-inch stilts. One day, after several hours on the stilts, Grammatico fell while walking through a cluttered job site, breaking his right wrist and left knee. A urine sample he provided in the hours after his fall tested positive for marijuana, amphetamines, and methamphetamine. He admitted smoking marijuana and snorting amphetamines over the previous weekend.

The Court said it recognized "compelling policy reasons support banning drug and alcohol use in the workplace." But the 1999 law, it said, conflicted with the Arizona Constitution's mandate for a workers' compensation system that requires payment of benefits for work-related injuries without consideration of fault by the injured employee. The law cannot stand "unless and until the Constitution is changed," Justice Michael D. Ryan wrote.

The Court noted that state lawmakers had considered--but not adopted--a resolution during this year's legislative session that would have set such a change in motion. The resolution called for asking voters in 2006 to amend the Constitution to allow benefits to be denied to a worker because of alcohol or drug use.

The resolution's sponsor, Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth of Gilbert, said he withheld the resolution from final action at the request of business groups. According to him, they wanted to see how the Supreme Court ruled. But now that everyone knows the Court's stance, "I think it's still an issue that has to be resolved," Farnsworth said.

Sources: The Associated Press and Capitol Media Services

Are there any surprises like these in store for the workers' compensation law in your state? Stay on top of things with BLR's "What to Do About Personnel Problems in [Your State]."

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