Marijuana Impact on Workers Compensation



23 States and the District of Columbia have or will be approving recreational marijuana use.   Chances are more states will approve recreational use since politicians have discovered a tax gold mine from marijuana.  Unfortunately marijuana use is very dangerous.


Marijuana intoxication contains as many as 400 known chemicals entering the body.  Marijuana smokers inhale more deeply and keep the smoke in their lungs longer. These smoke toxins and use procedures make it more dangerous, allow for greater side effects, as well as allows for greater permanent disabilities.  One ingredient THC has increased in toxicity and causes the greatest disability of brain damage.  In 2008 it reached a high of 9.6%.  Some foreign marijuana has been found that exceeded 24%.  (Interactions with other bodily functions and prolonged use deterioration are still being developed by the scientific and medical communities.)


Deteriorating health and employee performance impacts from marijuana use can become part of a workers compensation injury claim. Employees under marijuana intoxication coming on the job, or becoming intoxicated on the job, have great potential to cause or create situations for on the job injuries.   Should this happen, the employer can be faced with paying weekly benefits and medical care costs.  This may even cause exposures for the  employee’s lifetime.  Remember worker compensation laws require that the employee must be brought to pre-injury status.



Employer Reliefs Minimal:


Most or all workers compensation acts provide the employer with relief or no responsibility for employee self-inflicted injuries.  Substance abuse with resulting health impairment has been held to be self-inflicted and workers compensation cases have been denied based on this premise.


Two theories stand to defeat such relief. First the state law or a decisional finding, requires the employer to take the employee as found.  This means, any underlying health condition or pathology aggravated by a compensable injury becomes the employer’s responsibility to address and correct until the employee is brought back to pre-injury status.


Second, all workers compensation judges and referees operate on the presumption that the employee is to be given as much leeway as possible.  The rulings and decisions are to favor the employee as much as possible.  The employers have to present extraordinary evidence In order to have any hope of prevailing with a decision in their favor.


State Second Injury Funds used to assist employers with reliefs from non- related injury issues.  Currently, most states funds are almost non-existent.  The few that are functional require difficult steps for relief.  Employers need to have knowledge of a pre-existing condition prior to the compensation injury.   Most funds require the employer to pay first and seek reimbursement.  Since many state fund second injury units are often under-funded, recovery may be slow.



Determining Marijuana Usage:


There are basic signs for the layman to suspect marijuana use and intoxication.



The following steps are some outward signs.  As with any substance, many employees can hide their use.  Do not challenge the employee or make accusations without factual investigations and toxicology studies to confirm use.


  1. Loss in train of thought during conversations.
  2. Increase in appetite with gorging on junk food and sweets.
  3. Lack of energy and loss of motivation.
  4. Excessive sleeping patterns.
  5. Bad sleeping habits.
  6. Possession of Drug paraphernalia. (Most users roll their own cigarettes.)
  7. Legal or financial problems.
  8. Paranoia attitudes. (Everyone is out to get me.)
  9. Slow down or poor performance of work duties.
  10. Glassy eyes or staring off into space.
  11. Slurred speech.
  12. Poor vehicle operation and lack of attention to driving rules.
  13. Tips from fellow employees.
  14. Data from accident and health claim records.
  15. Excessive use of sick time.
  16. Deterioration of personal grooming.
  17. Prolong observation of these signs. THC stays in the body for days up to weeks depending on the amount and length of use.



Develop Policy and Procedures for Marijuana Intoxication.


Start a policy and procedure program soon as possible.  Use a professional organization that specializes in developing and implementing the program.  Be sure the procedure conforms to good legal practice and evidence obtained will be upheld and hard to challenge by the employee.


Always include a toxicology study when screening new employees and require pre-employment physical examinations.


Join with other employers and industry associations in petitioning legislators for changes in workers compensation law that will work to bring this problem under control.





Marijuana use is here and will affect workers compensation claims dramatically.   The exposure and associated cost will be monumental.  Develop a policy and procedure that will work to minimize these consequences.




Author Michael Stack, Principal of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. He is an expert in employer communication systems and helps employers reduce their workers comp costs by 20% to 50%. He resides in the Boston area and works as a Qualified Loss Management Program provider working with high experience modification factor companies in the Massachusetts State Risk Pool.  As the senior editor of Amaxx’s publishing division, Michael is on the cutting edge of innovation and thought leadership in workers compensation cost containment.  Contact:


©2014 Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.





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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.


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