Termination for being under influence of alcohol derails benefits award
Case name: BJ's Wholesale Club v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, No. 2010 C.D. 2011 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 05/10/12).
Ruling: The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that a worker was not entitled to total disability benefits because her loss of earnings was caused by her termination for misconduct and not her injury.
What it means: In Pennsylvania, a worker's loss of earnings resulting from her termination for misconduct unrelated to the injury cannot be causally connected to work-related injury. The worker is not entitled to disability benefits for that loss.
Summary: A worker at a store sustained a work-related injury when a customer ran over her foot with a shopping cart. She was diagnosed with a foot and toe contusion. She was authorized to return to work with the restriction that she sit 95 percent of the time. The store provided her with sedentary work. One night, the worker drank alcohol. After she reported for work the next day, the store manager requested that she submit to an alcohol test. A test revealed a blood alcohol level of .108. The store terminated her for being under the influence of alcohol at work. The worker sought total disability benefits from the date of her termination. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that she was not entitled to benefits.
The court explained that the worker was terminated for being under the influence of alcohol at work in violation of the store's substance abuse policy. A violation of an employer's substance abuse policy constitutes conduct that amounts to a lack of good faith on the part of the worker. A worker terminated for such conduct is not entitled to benefits for that loss.
The court rejected the worker's arguments that she was not acting intoxicated and that she was taking a narcotic pain medication that could have kept alcohol in her body longer than normal. Although she may not have exhibited intoxicated behaviors, this did not negate the fact that she was under the influence of alcohol. She did not present competent evidence that her medication affected the level of alcohol in her body. The court said that her blood alcohol level and intoxication were a result of her voluntary act of drinking heavily.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
August 2, 2012
Copyright 2012© LRP Publications