Reasonable suspicion testing
Reasonable suspicion drug testing determinations are sometimes the most challenging aspects of a drug-free workplace program, yet can have a profound impact on safety, well-being and productivity.
Reasonable suspicion testing, also known as for cause drug testing, is performed when supervisors have evidence or reasonable cause to suspect an employee of drug use. Evidence is based upon direct observation, either by a supervisor or another employee. Specific reasons for reasonable suspicion testing include physical evidence of illicit substances, patterns of erratic or abnormal behavior, disorientation or confusion and an inability to complete routine tasks.
Since this type of drug testing is discretionary, it requires careful, comprehensive supervisor training to ensure consistent application of the program across the workforce. Employers with safety-sensitive employees subject to federallymandated testing are provided with definitions of suspicious behavior and given specific steps to follow to administer reasonable suspicion testing. Employers in the general U.S. workforce are responsible for creating and administering their own guidelines and policies. Employees who are suspected of drug use or a policy violation are generally advised not return to work while awaiting their tests results.
When an employer is subject to federally-regulated drug testing, the modal agency that they are covered under provides a definition and often the steps that should be taken to administer a reasonable suspicion test. For non-regulated testing, an employer has the ability to create their own definition of a reasonable suspicion test. However, the U.S. Department of Labor and states where the employer does business may have input so be sure to check all state laws before implementing the program. An employer should plan for how to make the determination regarding who and when to test, how to document the reasonable suspicion activity and what actions will be taken.
Here are some best practices to follow as you consider reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing for your workplace.
- Reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing should be a part of a company policy.
- Make sure employees know that they are subject to reasonable suspicion drug testing.
- All supervisory personnel should receive a minimum of two (2) hours of training on reasonable suspicion signs, symptoms and documentation. Recurrent training is highly recommended to keep supervisors educated and prepared.
- Determinations should always be made based on current information. Observations may occur just before, during or just after the employee is working. If the employee’s previous actions have been documented, including that information in the current documented observation is acceptable. However, in the absence of current signs and symptoms, a reasonable suspicion drug test would generally not be merited on a past incident.
- Evaluate signs and symptoms and document. We often hear the words ‘specific’, ‘contemporaneous’ and ‘articulable’ in reasonable suspicion drug testing determinations because these words indicate that the observer has a specific and current concern that can be described. For example: John came to work today late. He clocked in and then fell asleep in the break room. When I woke him up, he was not startled to see me. He looked at me and went back to sleep. There was a strong odor of alcohol.
- It is strongly encouraged that at least two (2) supervisory personnel concur that there is reasonable suspicion for a drug test. This protects both the supervisor and the employee.
- Drug and alcohol testing should be done promptly after removing the employee from duty. If the drug or alcohol test is not collected on-site, contact a collection site to schedule the test.
- The employee under suspicion should not be allowed to drive themselves to the collection site (or elsewhere) without a negative drug test result.
- Reasonable suspicion drug testing can play an important role in helping to create and maintain drug-free workplace programs. When properly administered, it is a fair and reliable testing method that can help to both dissuade and detect drug and alcohol use.
Indications that reasonable suspicion reasons to test exist include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Odor of alcohol on the body or breath
- Slurred speech
- Unsteady standing or walking
- Inability or difficulty completing routine tasks
- Disorientation or confusion
- Erratic or unusual behavior
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