Lynne Curry: Drunken employee gets hurt on job, wants workers' comp

THE WORKPLACEAugust 25, 2013 

Q. One of our night warehouse men, "Frank," got drunk during his Friday shift and slipped and fell. We learned this when he called Monday morning and told us he'd wrenched his back, would be out all week and that the chiropractor's office would be calling us with their bills as it was a work comp incident.

When we interviewed Frank's co-worker and the two drivers who came in and out of the warehouse, all three said Frank was drunk. We have no way of knowing how drunk because he didn't follow our safety incident procedures -- reporting the accident to his on-call supervisor. If he had, she'd have required he take a breathalyzer. He was a new employee and said he didn't know the policy but we don't believe him and we want this problem over.

We fired him. Do we have to pay his ongoing bills given he was drunk?

A. Turn this over to your workers' compensation carrier. According to a July 2013 9th Circuit Court ruling (Alaska's in the 9th Circuit), when an injury is "occasioned solely by" intoxication, the employee can't claim workers' compensation.

In that case, a longshoreman drank two beers before arriving at work and drank on and off all day, achieving a blood alcohol of .25. When he relieved himself near quitting time near the dock's bull rail, he fell over the rail onto a concrete and steel ledge. After sobering up, he filed for workers' compensation.

Your situation is messier -- you don't how drunk Frank was or exactly what led to his injury. You may have liability if Frank's accident resulted from circumstances other than or in addition to his drinking. Your workers' compensation specialist can do a thorough investigation and also tell you the regulations that apply in your case.

Also, although you believe Frank either intentionally or drunkenly ignored your policy, three employees saw potential drunken behavior without alerting your supervisor. What's going on in your warehouse and with your drivers? Dig into this situation -- or you may have repeat performances.

Q. I work with two alpha co-workers. I like both but they can't stand each other. Every time these two have an altercation, each pulls me into a conversation behind closed doors explaining what "really" happened. I realize each needs to vent, so I listen, but I'm tired of getting drawn into their drama. How do I make these two ladies get along?

A. Although you can't make them get along, you can stop playing a supporting role in their drama.

No one needs to vent. By allowing your coworkers to bend your ear, you fuel the drama. Further, when you sympathetically listen, each probably feels you take her side, lessening her motivation to work things out.

Change your behavior and you affect your dueling alphas. The next time one of them pulls you behind closed doors and starts to vent, say, "I like you and I want to be here for you. At the same time, it frustrates me that you two can't or won't get along. I realize you each see the situation differently and believe the other's more at fault. I wish I could fix this but I can't." Then, open the door or change the subject.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@thegrowthcompany.com You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.

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