Reasonable Suspicion Testing

Reasonable Suspicion Testing

Reasonable Suspicion Testing:
More Important Than Ever Before

Testing an employee for cause, or under circumstances that have led to reasonable suspicion has long been a standard practice in workplace drug and alcohol testing policies.

For U.S. Department of Transportation Employees, testing for cause is required whenever an employee exhibits the appearance, behaviors, speech, or body odors that would lead an immediate supervisor to suspect that the individual may be operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol. DOT even requires anyone directly supervising safety sensitive employees to receive training on the detection of drug and alcohol use on a regular basis.

For non-DOT employers, testing for cause is often seen as a very last resort that only happens in extreme situations and most will strive to find a way out of conducting this type of test as they want to avoid the confrontational aspect.

In fact, some employers will try to mask reasonable suspicion as a random test. This is a risky choice to make as singling anyone out for a drug test and then attempting to call it random can put the employer in a position of liability. If the employee chooses to challenge the true nature of the random draw and it is discovered that employee was targeted, the employer could be sued for discrimination and would have a hard time proving otherwise which could cost them dearly in losing their case.

The best route to take is in understanding that through increased education, awareness and regular training on the signs and symptoms of drug use, supervisors can become highly effective in maintaining safety protocols and enforcing policy standards and protocols as part of a drug-free workplace culture and this can be done without bias. But it must be a clear and understood piece of the company ethos that is well-communicated and carried out.

With so many states changing laws surrounding the legalization of drugs such as cannabis, reasonable cause testing is more important than ever before. It is no longer enough to simply terminate an employee for a positive drug test result, employers must document the specific behaviors, speech, body odors, evidence of paraphernalia and any other indicators that drug use could have been a factor in unsafe action or cases of accident, injury or even fatality. The drug test may verify such suspicions to be true and accurate – or maybe it will not help at all – depending on what type of drug the employee may choose to be using. Not all drugs in the marketplace are on the drug test panel. Sometimes it is impossible to find the specific impairing substance. However, an employer must have confidence in the fact that if unsafe behaviors are documented and there are concerns that an employee could cause harm to themselves or someone else, they have the right to document, confront and take action to protect the workplace environment and the general public.

They key is documentation. Every reasonable cause test must have articulable facts that can be well recorded. Good record-keeping goes a long way in court to explain the nature of the circumstances at the time and why the decision was made to change a negative impending outcome. Just make sure the documentation is stored in a confidential manner and access is only granted to those operating in the drug and alcohol testing arena for the particular company.

Note that a good training for reasonable suspicion will include scenario-based role play training in which the supervisors practice the critical portion of confronting the employee’s unsafe behavior. This is a case in which practice truly does “make perfect”. The more rehearsed a supervisor or HR Manager is in how to handle for cause cases, the less nervous and more confident they will be and the smoother the situation will occur.

Remember never to react emotionally in a reasonable cause situation but stick solidly to policy enforcement with an emphasis on keeping the employee and the workplace safe. If the employee tries to cause a scene or becomes emotionally manipulative, remember these are likely diversionary tactics meant to intimidate and control the situation. Simply do not allow that to become the focus of the situation and maintain professional courtesy with policy enforcement exactly as it is laid out in your written protocols. Testing for cause is not an “if” but a “when”. If you have employees, statistically it will happen at some point in time. It is better to be prepared for the unexpected and know exactly how to react, respond and carry-out the outlined policy consequences then to hope it will never happen and panic when it does.

If your company is in need of Reasonable Cause training that helps supervisors detect the signs and symptoms of substance abuse, Accredited Drug Testing has certified trainers who can help. Contact us for more information and always remember that safety is the highest priority when considering next steps in your workplace drug and alcohol policy.

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