Intoxicated Injured Worker Not Entitled to PA Workers’ Comp

An injured worker in Pennsylvania is generally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits when the injured worker is disabled from his or her job as a result of the work injury, unless the loss in earnings is due to the injured worker’s own bad conduct. In these types of cases, the analysis focuses on the reason the injured worker now has a loss in wages.

In BJ’s Wholesale Club v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Pearson), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania addressed the issue of whether wage loss was related to a work injury, and whether workers’ comp benefits should be awarded. A Claim Petition was litigated before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), who found that the injured worker did hurt her left foot and was disabled from her pre-injury position. The injured worker was then given a light duty job, from which she was fired due to being intoxicated at work. The WCJ nonetheless awarded workers’ compensation benefits to the injured worker since she had not shown any signs of intoxication, and since her pain medications for the work injury may have impacted the blood alcohol test.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed the decision of the WCJ. While acknowledging that the WCJ is the ultimate finder of fact, the Court decided that benefits could not be awarded on the facts as found by the WCJ. Whether the injured worker showed signs of intoxication was irrelevant – the blood alcohol test, as found credible by the WCJ, showed that the injured worker was indeed intoxicated (and that the employer had a policy enabling termination for such an offense). Meanwhile, testimony that pain medications “may have” impacted the blood alcohol testing was equivocal and unable to support a finding of fact. To properly support a finding of fact, medical evidence must be given to a reasonable degree of medical certainty; that something “could have been” or “may have been” will not rise to this level.

As such, the injured worker could not sustain her burden of proof that her work injury caused her loss of earnings, so disability benefits were properly denied.