A federal appeals court held on February 14, 2014 that an employer did not retaliate against an employee when it discharged him for refusing to submit to a drug test after he initiated the filing of a workers’ compensation claim.  Phillips v. Continental Tire The Americas, LLC, No. 13-2199 (7th Cir. Feb. 14, 2014).

Phillips was required to submit to a drug test after stating his intention to file a workers’ compensation claim.  The Company’s written substance abuse policy required drug testing upon initiation of a workers’ compensation claim, among other circumstances.  The policy also provided that refusing to test was grounds for termination.  Phillips was informed that he had to submit to a drug test before he could submit his workers’ compensation claim.  He refused because he did not think that drug testing should be a consequence of filing a workers’ compensation claim.  His employment was terminated.

Phillips filed an action alleging retaliatory discharge.  To prevail, he needed to prove that his discharge was causally related to his pursuit of a workers’ compensation claim.  The lower court held that he could not do so, and the appellate court agreed.  It was undisputed that Phillips was discharged because he refused to submit to a drug test, not because he filed a workers’ compensation claim.  Moreover, the Company terminated other employees who refused to test, and did not discharge other employees who filed workers’ compensation claims.

Phillips further argued that the Company’s drug testing policy discouraged employees from filing workers’ compensation claims.  However, Phillips could not identify one employee who was discouraged from filing a workers’ compensation claim due to the drug testing requirement.  Additionally, the court noted that this discouragement argument was in tension with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, which expressly contemplates drug and alcohol testing in connection with workers’ compensation claims.  Moreover, workplace drug testing is not against Illinois public policy, because the state’s medical marijuana law and its Human Rights Law both provide that employers may adopt and enforce drug testing policies.