On March 18, 2016, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision to award unemployment compensation benefits to an employee who refused a drug test. Austal, USA, LLC v. Alabama Dept. of Labor, No. 2141072, 2016 WL 1077243 (Ala. Civ. App. Mar. 18, 2016). In Austal, the employee failed a random preliminary drug test. He then refused to take a second, follow-up drug test. Austal’s employee handbook contained a policy permitting employees to refuse a drug test, but notifying them that refusal would result in immediate termination.
The trial court found that Austal terminated the employee for failing the preliminary drug test, which was not DOT compliant or otherwise reliable. Therefore, the trial court ordered that the employee receive unemployment compensation benefits. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed, finding that the employee was terminated for refusing the second drug test. Unemployment compensation benefits can be denied if the employee is terminated for “misconduct,” which is defined to include “the refusal to submit or cooperate with a blood or urine test after previous warning.”
Because the employee refused to cooperate with the second drug test, and because the handbook gave him previous warning of the consequences of failure to cooperate, the Court of Civil Appeals found that he engaged in “misconduct.”
Importantly, the Court of Civil Appeals sent the case back to the trial court for further review. The court found that the drug test refused by the employee must meet DOT standards or be “otherwise reliable.” In short, there are three conditions that will result in denial of unemployment compensation benefits: (1) the employee must refuse a drug test; (2) the employee must be previously warned that refusal of the drug test will result in termination; and, (3) the drug test refused must comply with DOT standards or be “otherwise reliable.”