Railroad companies have a duty of care to their employees that includes removing impaired workers who pose a threat to the safety of others. Railroad operators that fail to properly screen their employees for drug or alcohol consumption negligently place personnel at risk of serious harm and can be held liable for damages. This includes liability for medical expenses, lost wages and diminished career opportunities, recovery/therapy, as well as pain and suffering caused by the injury and the impact it has on the individual’s quality of life.
Effects of Impairment
Impairment caused by drug or alcohol consumption can lead to unsafe working conditions. Impaired workers have diminished reflexes and limited decision-making capabilities. This can place the health and safety of other workers, rail passengers, motorists, and others at risk of serious injuries or wrongful deaths. Impaired workers also have limited productivity, higher rates of absenteeism, and tardiness that can increase pressure and cause physical and mental strain on other workers. This can increase the potential for non-impaired employees to make lethal mistakes. When an employer negligently allows an impaired worker to continue working, the Federal Employers Liability Act allows parties injured by an impaired employee to pursue compensation for damages.
Drug and Alcohol Testing
The Federal Railroad Administration has required drug and alcohol testing of employees since 1986. Railroad employees are prohibited from possessing alcohol while on duty or within four hours of a scheduled shift. The use of illegal drugs is prohibited both on and off duty. Railroad operators are required to relieve employees who test positive for alcohol at concentrations of .02 to .039 for a period of at least 8 hours following the test. It is at the discretion of the employer whether to terminate the employment of the individual following a positive alcohol test.
If an employee tests positive at concentrations of .04 or greater, or has illegal drugs within their system, this is considered a violation of federal rules. Under these rules, the employer must remove the individual from service until they satisfy the federal return-to-duty requirements. These include an evaluation by a drug/alcohol abuse professional and any recommended treatment. If a drug test was “hot” due to prescription medication, the individual must obtain clearance to continue using the medication while at work.