October 23, 2015

Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

If you’re aiming for a drug-free workplace, designing, explaining, and implementing an employee drug policy is a must. This policy will cover a number of drug abuse-related topics, such as if and when employees will be screened and what measures will be taken depending on results. It will also include the employer’s stance on reasonable suspicion drug testing (screening a particular employee for a particular reason). We’ll cover what this is, as well as how an employer can implement reasonable suspicion drug testing in the workplace.

What is reasonable suspicion drug testing?

Some employers, such as governmental institutions, Department of Transportation-covered employers, and other federally regulated entities have a clear definition for reasonable suspicion drug testing. However, if not covered by one of these entities, the individual employer is responsible for creating their own definition in the company’s drug policy.

It is very important to include this definition in your policy for two reasons: 1) employees need to know what rules apply to them and how they apply, and 2) employers need to know how to properly address these issues.

If an employer has reason to believe, through observation, that an employee’s appearance, behavior, and/or conduct indicates the possible use of alcohol or drugs, then the employer should proceed with a Reasonable Suspicion Drug and/or Alcohol Test. It is strongly recommended that a supervisor who has been trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol use or abuse thoroughly documents in writing the observations which lead to the decision to test.

What are the steps to take in reasonable suspicion drug testing?

Reasonable suspicion drug testing involves four steps: observation, confrontation, documentation, and testing. To ensure that your workplace is consistent, efficient, and well organized, you will need to ask yourself the following questions when establishing protocol:

  1. Observation – Who can make the observation? Where must the observation take place? What signs and symptoms should one look for?
  2. Confrontation – Where should the confrontation take place? What should be said? What should one not say? Who will be involved in the confrontation?
  3. Documentation – Has the company created a reasonable suspicion documentation form? When should this form be completed? Does each observer complete his/her own form?
  4. Testing – Where is the employee taken to complete testing? Who will take the person to the testing facility? Is there availability at all hours of service for testing to be completed? Can on-site collection options be used (and if so, what should you do with the employee while waiting for the collector to arrive)?

How can an employer implement this in the office?

Creating a definition and policy for reasonable suspicion drug testing is not as difficult as it may seem. Overall, you will want to make sure you cover the most important subjects, including:

  • When to test (i.e., what quantifies “reasonable suspicion”),
  • How to document the process, and
  • What measures are to be taken.

You must also take into account state and/or federal regulations.

If you’re having trouble getting started, we have some tips to help!

  • Think about the symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse when you are creating your test/definition portion of the policy—unusual behavior, absenteeism or tardiness, difficulty standing or walking, falling asleep during work hours, or a particular odor, to name a few examples. Also, include information to use when training supervisors on reasonable suspicion recognition.
  • When documenting, be as specific as possible. Name the behaviors in question—to make a case, there should be several present. For example, Mary came to work this morning looking unusually fatigued. She seemed to have difficulty understanding her coworkers, was slow to respond, and appeared very distracted at her desk. Additionally, her eyes were red and drooping, and she smelled like marijuana.
  • Develop and use a company reasonable suspicion recording form. All trained supervisors should know the location of this form. In addition, the company should determine how long a supervisor has to complete a form after the decision to test is made (often the timeframe is no more than 24 hours).
  • Have more than one supervisor document reasonable suspicion. This will help create an unbiased case. Establish a chain of command and company protocol for reporting reasonable suspicion. For example, what steps should a supervisor take if a second supervisor is not available to confirm a reasonable suspicion concern?
  • Educate your entire staff—supervisory and non-supervisory—on the process. To accomplish this, you will need to determine how often training is required, taking federal and state regulations into consideration. You can choose between online training, in-person training, or video training. Find out who is qualified to provide the initial training, and be sure to establish a time requirement for the length of the training. Finally, consider checking out the workplace educational programs that Employee Screening Services offers.

So long as you create a clear definition of what reasonable suspicion means for your office, explain that to your employees (and make sure that they understand they are susceptible to this kind of screening), and execute these measures appropriately, you will be able to handle such issues effectively if they arise.


Do you need help creating a drug-free workplace? Employee Screening Services can provide the assistance you need. We can partner with you in the development and evaluation of your program. We even offer educational programs. If you’re interested, we are here to help. You can reach us at 1-888-379-7697 or visit our website at www.yourdrugtesting.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

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