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Tennessee workers' compensation law on drug testing passed

Workers' compensation exists to cover the burden of medical expenses and lost wages after an employee is injured. It also provides long-term disability benefits for those who have been hurt while at work. A new workers' compensation law concerning drug testing became effective on July 1 in Tennessee. The new measure, backed by the state's business community, now requires employees to provide "clear and convincing" evidence that drugs were not to blame for an accident in the workplace.

Senate Bill 1785/House Bill 2047 was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly before the close of the May legislative session. Under the new law, workers must prove that drug use was not the cause of an injury in order to qualify for workers' compensation benefits. If an employee tests positive for drug use or refuses to submit to a drug test, his or her claim will automatically be denied. While this is not a new practice, workers seeking compensation and welfare benefits could now find it more difficult to make a claim for benefits following an injury.

This is because injured workers must now provide proof before a judge that their case is valid by showing that there is "clear and convincing" evidence that the facts they offer in the case are true. Previously, those making a claim were only required to satisfy a "preponderance of the evidence" standard. This meant that a judge would likely find in their favor if there was minimal proof supporting their assertions. Now workers must be able to convince the court that there is reasonable certainty that the facts they offer in the case are true, even when drugs had nothing to do with an injury.

The bill has received widespread support from business leaders and Republicans, who have been campaigning for the changes for some time. While the change in legislation has been regarded as a victory for businesses in Tennessee, it has been met with concern from workers' advocacy groups. They feel that the changes slant workers' compensation laws heavily in the favor of employers, and it could leave employees injured in the workplace unsupported in the event of an accident. An attorney specializing in workers' compensation law may be able to help those who have fallen victim to an accident in the workplace in light of the legislative changes.

Source: Nashville Business Journal, "Workers' comp law changes Friday," Brian Reisinger, 29 June 2011.

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