Nevada Lawmakers Debate Policy on Drug Tests for Injured Workers

By | February 22, 2007

Injured Nevada workers could face required drug tests to prevail in insurance disputes, under an industry-backed proposal debated by state legislators.

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee recently heard testimony on SB54, which would change worker compensation rules so that any worker who refuses to take a post-accident drug test would be presumed intoxicated.

Injured workers still could contest the presumed drug use, but would have to prove they weren’t intoxicated. Under current law, workers face no penalty for refusing a post-accident drug test.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, said it’s meant to encourage personal responsibility and prevent insurance rates from going up for everyone.

The current state law on how to treat workers who refuse to take drug tests is unclear, said Gary Milliken, a lobbyist for Builders Insurance Company. Builders handled 4,000 claims last year, and in about 125 of those cases a worker refused to take a post-accident drug test, he added.

“The law is gray on what to do if a worker refuses to take a test,” said Milliken. “And we need to clarify that.”

A lobbyist for the Clark County School District, Rose McKinney-James, also supported the bill, saying it would make it easier for the district to manage paying its worker compensation expenses.

“You’re not going to go to jail for it (not taking a test),” said Lee. “It’s not a rampant problem, but it is a problem.”

Barbara Gruenewald, representing the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, opposed the bill, saying current Nevada law on worker compensation insurance balances rights of employers and employees, and the proposed law would shift that balance in the wrong direction.

“This bill changes that policy, that focus,” said Gruenewald. “It puts the focus on whether the claimant took the drug test or not.”

Gruenewald told a story of a football player she represented who couldn’t take a urine test because of a groin injury. When he offered to take a blood test, the insurance company refused, saying it was too expensive, Gruenewald said.

Some legislators expressed concern about allowing employers to force drug testing in any circumstances.

“This doesn’t differentiate between a sliced hand in a kitchen or a nail through a finger, or a broken leg, or a piece of machinery falling on you,” said Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas. “It runs the whole gamut, from a small injury to a devastating injury.”

“Someone could have smoked marijuana the day before” and test positive, said Sen. Joseph Heck, R-Henderson. “We have to look at how drug testing impacts worker compensation.”

The committee also considered two other bills about worker compensation insurance.

The first, SB100, would force insurers to put compensation payments directly into an injured worker bank account, rather than issue a check, if the worker requests it.

Lawmakers also heard additional testimony on SB3, which would allow surviving spouses of police and firefighters who die in the line of duty to remarry without losing benefits.

Topics Legislation Workers' Compensation Drugs

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