Human Resources News & Insights

Drunk employee hurts himself at work: Should he get benefits?

Here’s the scenario: An employee — while on the job — drinks a small bottle of whiskey and more than half a fifth of vodka. Then he’s injured in a fall at the worksite. Should he collect benefits? 

An administrative law judge actually said “yes” — awarding him workers’ compensation benefits.

But on appeal, the world seemed to make sense again, as a labor commission appeals board reversed the judge’s ruling.

Here’s what happened

Shane Wood spent the morning painting the interior of a three-story building. In the afternoon he decided to consume copious amounts of whiskey and vodka. Then he slept in a closet for two hours.

When he woke up and exited the closet, he fell down an empty elevator shaft, injuring himself.

The administrative law judge awarded Wood workers’ comp, saying his injuries occurred at the job site during a work day.

His employer appealed and the Utah Labor Commission Appeals Board reversed the decision. It ruled Wood wasn’t fulfilling work duties and wasn’t engaged in work activity when he was injured.

Next, the case went to the Utah Court of Appeals, where Wood made two arguments:

  • He argued his nap after drinking on the job didn’t constitute a departure from the course of his employment, and
  • Even if he did leave the course of his employment during his nap, he returned to work when he woke up.

The court didn’t buy either one. It said taking a nap was a departure from the course of his employment, and there was no reasonable basis to conclude that in the short time between when he woke up and fell down the elevator shaft that he’d resumed working.

Result: No benefits for Wood.

Cite: Wood v. Karr Painting and Decoration, Inc.

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  • HR Annie

    I can’t believe they tried to award this employee benefits. I wonder if they also tried to give him unemployment benefits after he was fired for drinking on the job.

  • MMAN

    Here’s my 2 cents worth…anyone who would drink while on the job, especially in this quantity, probably has other major problems. With that said, I could almost guarantee you, given the nature of his job, he was no doubt an employee of a contractor who probably doesn’t do any kind of background checks/screening on their employees at all. Moreover, the court also refused to award worker’s comp benefits based on the finding that he had departed from his work to take the nap so therefore he wasn’t performing job duties when he got hurt. So the fact that he was drinking, as far as the worker’s comp decision went, was a non-issue.