Injured workers can’t be denied benefits even if they were high when they were hurt, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
In a unanimous decision, the high court voided a 6-yearold law that says employees who test positive for alcohol impairment or illegal drug use are ineligible for weekly benefits and having their medical bills paid after an on-the-job injury.
Justice Michael Ryan, writing for the court, said the state constitution sets up workers’ compensation as a no-fault system. That means if employees are injured on the job they are entitled to certain medical benefits and payments for lost wages, no matter who is at fault.
Ryan said the Legislature is constitutionally powerless to alter that system.
Attorney Don Johnsen said businesses may now try to amend the constitution to exempt drug or alcohol impaired workers from compensation.
But Johnsen, a board member of Drugs Don’t Work in Arizona, said amendments require voter approval — meaning Arizonans have to be convinced to alter the system that has been in place 80 years.
Ryan noted Wednesday’s decision does not bar employers from firing workers who test positive for drugs or alcohol when they show up at work.
Johnsen said the ruling may make testing even more commonplace: He said employers need to "weed these people out before they have an accident.’’
In the case, court records show David Grammatico was a working foreman, installing drywall while walking around on 42-inch stilts.
After several hours of walking on the stilts, Grammatico was injured when he fell while walking through a cluttered area on the job site, breaking his right wrist and left knee.
He later admitted he smoked marijuana and snorted amphetamines during the two weekend days before. A urine sample he provided in the hours after his fall tested positive for metabolites of marijuana, amphetamines and methamphetamine.
A 1999 state law says if a company has a drug-testing policy, an injured worker can be denied benefits for failing a drug test or refusing to take one. A hearing officer, citing that law, said Grammatico’s inability to prove that his drug use did not contribute to his injury means he cannot collect benefits. That, Ryan said, is illegal.
The constitution makes compensation available to those hurt on the job if the injury was caused, in whole or in part, by inherent risks of the job. The system was designed as a trade-off: Workers are guaranteed benefits without having to prove what caused their injury; employers cannot be sued by injured employees.