Over the past few decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who have developed substance abuse problems. This last year saw a particular spike in both drinking and in opioid use, as the stress of lockdowns and unemployment drove many people to the brink.
When a person abuses alcohol at home, there may be an increased chance he or she will abuse it at work, or will come to work not fully sober. This can increase the risk of injury for all workers, and can affect the overall performance of the team:
- Worker absenteeism is common, which forces employers to either have existing workers pick up the absent worker’s share or forces employers to hire less-skilled workers in their place.
- Workplace performance is below par. Workers who drink or think about drinking at work are not focused on their job. This makes them more likely to injure themselves or someone else by failing to use equipment or tools correctly, failing to communicate with other workers which creates dangerous risks, and in other ways. According to AlcoRehab, ERs disclosed that 16% of injured workers were alcoholics.
- Workers who drink are more likely to be depressed or anxious than other workers. Depression and anxiety can affect overall health as well as workplace performance. Excessive drinking may even cause brain damage.
- Some drinking can lead to violence or criminal activity.
While some laws do recognize how much of a workplace problem alcoholism is, generally employers can fire employees who do not do to their job for any reason, including alcoholism.
Can workers who are alcoholics claim workers’ compensation?
It depends on whether they were under the influence at the time of the accident. Under Tennessee law, a worker who is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol cannot claim workers’ compensation benefits:
In cases where the employer has implemented a drug-free workplace pursuant to chapter 9 of this title, if the injured employee has, at the time of the injury, a blood alcohol concentration level equal to or greater than eight hundredths of one percent (0.08%) for non-safety sensitive positions, or four hundredths of one percent (0.04%) for safety-sensitive positions, as determined by blood or breath testing, or if the injured employee has a positive confirmation of a drug as defined in § 50-9-103, then it is presumed that the drug or alcohol was the proximate cause of the injury.
However, as alcoholism is recognized by both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act as a medical condition, it does not necessarily have to be revealed to an employer that the employee has been diagnosed as an alcoholic. Therefore, an injured worker cannot be denied workers’ compensation on the basis of being an alcoholic, but can be denied compensation if:
- The worker is under the influence at the time of the accident;
- The alcohol use is the presumed cause of the accident; and/or
- The employee refuses to submit to testing for BAC or drug use.
Further, if the employer knew that the employee was under the influence while at work and did nothing, then it is up to the employer to defend the employee’s right to seek benefits.
Can you claim workers’ compensation if the person who harmed you was drunk?
If an employee is injured by a drunk coworker, then the injured employee may seek workers’ compensation benefits. The worker may also have a personal injury claim against the employee – and possibly the employer – depending on what happened.
What are some of the signs of alcohol abuse in the workplace?
Aside from the more obvious physical symptoms – unsteady walking, slurred speech, red eyes, breath that smells like alcohol – employers should also look for other signs of abuse:
- Not meeting deadlines
- Not being as productive as before the drinking started
- Not coming to work on time
- Not coming to work at all
Do Tennessee employers and employees really have to worry about alcohol abuse in the workplace?
Unfortunately, yes – they do. According to data from the New York Times, 17 million Americans struggle with alcoholism. The pandemic is believed to have made alcoholism and alcohol abuse much worse due to the anxiety it is causing so many people.
Many people who have an alcohol disorder do not receive treatment even when they tell their doctor. A Washington University School of Medicine study found that about 80% of people who have an “alcohol use disorder” have sought medical help in the prior year. The study questioned about 70% of these people. Only 10% said the health providers encouraged them to cut back the health professional. Only 6% received any treatment.
Alcohol causes numerous preventable deaths, injuries and disease each year – including vehicle accidents and workplace accidents. According to AlcoRehab, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and other organizations:
- 7% of full-time employees are heavy drinkers
- 15% of workers (more than 19 million) are alcoholics who work while they are intoxicated
- The following industries have some of the most workers with alcohol problems
- Mining: 17%
- Construction: 16.5%
- Food services and accommodations: 11.8%
- The arts, recreation, and entertainment: 11.5%
At Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law, our Chattanooga workers’ compensation lawyers understand what types of accidents and occupational illnesses cause workers to lose time from work to treat their injuries and diseases. To discuss your rights to workers’ compensation for any disease including COVID-19, call us at 423-756-7923 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We represent injured workers in Chattanooga, TN; Cleveland, TN; North Georgia, and the surrounding counties.
Workers drink in the workplace for many reasons including:
- It is part of our culture. Some workplaces encourage drinking. New workers are likely to join in the drinking so they do not feel isolated.
- Our movies and TV shows make drinking seem part of the norm. These shows even suggest being under the influence is necessary for creativity.
- People drink due to stress. Some jobs including law enforcement and trucking require the risk of violence or the tedium of being away from friends and family for long periods of time.
- Connecting with customers. Many workers meet at restaurants, bars, and other places to connect with new clients and keep old clients returning to the business.
- Drinking is a way to celebrate and unwind.
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