(Written by Jack Milarch – NMHBA EVP/CEO – Originally published in the January 2014 Housing Journal)

It’s Time for a Strong Deterrent to On-The-Job Drug and Alcohol Abuse

In the upcoming legislative session, Builders Trust, our workers’ compensation provider affiliate, and New Mexico Home Builders Association will again be asking the legislature to approve a change in our workers’ compensation statutes relating to the employers’ ability to deny workers’ compensation claims from employees whose substance abuse contributed to their injury.

Our two organizations, NMHBA and Builders Trust, are part of a business coalition that is promoting this change to our workers’ compensation statutes.  So why is this important and why now?

Builders Trust is the workers’ compensation carrier for the majority of NMHBA members, and as such we represent the employer and make decisions on either paying or denying claims resulting from work-related injuries.  For years, Builders Trust has had little success in denying claims payment when there was known drug or alcohol involvement in the injury.  Explaining that there is no choice but to just pay the bills from such claims is difficult and frustrating for Builders Trust and our participants.  The root of the problem is our state’s law.

Since the workers’ compensation law’s major overhaul in 1991, by law Builders Trust can only deduct 10% of the wage replacement benefits when it is proven that drugs or alcohol contributed to the accident. Also, the full medical bills must be paid, which often are very expensive and sometimes run in the millions of dollars.  In addition, the New Mexico court system has made it increasingly difficult to prove that drug and alcohol involvement contributed to the accident so that even the small reduction in benefits can be claimed.

The bottom line is that employers no longer have a defense against drug and alcohol-caused claims, and we feel this is not appropriate in a time when on-the-job drug and alcohol use is all too common in many New Mexico industries, including construction.

As I noted earlier, during the last legislative session we promoted a similar but “softer” version of a drug and alcohol deterrent bill, hoping to get broad support.  That effort was squashed by the Democrat House leadership working in conjunction with organized labor representatives.  The vote to kill our bill in the House Labor Committee was strictly along party lines.  Other employer friendly workers’ compensation bills promoted by our coalition met the same fate.  Treatment of similar bills in the Senate was the same.

This year we met early with Governor Susana Martinez and various legislators explaining once again why we believe we need a strong message from our government that drug and alcohol usage on the job is not acceptable.  We also promoted our message to construction groups and other industries which we felt would be interested in this effort, including trucking and oil and gas groups.

We urge you to keep in touch with our efforts and help in any way you can.