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May 31, 2012
Worker Fired After Drug Test, Seeks Unemployment

Is a worker who was fired for failing a drug test eligible for unemployment benefits? That is what a court had to decide.

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What happened. When “Alexander” was hired as a route delivery driver for Peace River Distributing, Inc., the company’s drug-free workplace policy was communicated to him and was included in the employee handbook.

In accordance with the wholesale beverage distributor’s policy, a random drug test was conducted on Alexander during his employment. He failed the test, purportedly testing positive for marijuana. As a result, he was discharged for misconduct. He had been working for the company for about 30 months.

Alexander filed for unemployment benefits. An appeals referee disqualified him from receiving benefits, saying that Peace River Distributors had implemented its drug-free workplace program under the Florida Workers’ Compensation Program, that Alexander was aware of the program, and that he admitted having failed the drug test.

The Florida Unemployment Appeals Commission reversed the decision, saying Alexander “did not admit guilt. His testimony was very short. He was asked the reason given for the termination, and he responded he had a positive failed drug test for marijuana. He indicated.. [that an] EAP specialist saw it was ‘just a stupid mistake not a drug problem.’ The referee did not ask for clarification, and never asked… [him] if he used marijuana prior to the drug test, how much, if any, he used, or the timeframe of any use. The referee likewise never asked him if he was under the influence of drugs at work.”

Peace River Distributing appealed to the District Court of Appeal, First District.

What the court said. The court reversed the commission’s decision, disqualifying Alexander from receiving benefits.

The court reasoned that “there was no erroneous conclusion of law reached by the appeals referee that would have authorized the commission to reject the referee’s conclusion and substitute its own correct conclusions of law… [T]he appeals referee concluded the claimant’s testimony contained an admission. Competent and substantial evidence (claimant’s testimony) supported the appeals referee’s finding and ultimate conclusion that the claimant committed misconduct by violating the employer’s drug free workplace policy.” Peace River Distributing, Inc. v. Florida Unemployment Appeals Commission, et al., District Court of Appeal, First District, State of Florida, No. 1D11-2842 (3/2/12).

Point to remember: Employers need to make sure that employees are made aware of drug-free workplace policies upon hire and periodically throughout their employment.

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