One of the most difficult things about reasonable suspicion testing for supervisors is the fear of being wrong when “accusing” an employee of using drugs or alcohol, but the profound impact on safety, well-being and productivity may outweigh those fears.
While some employees fear a drug testing policy, employers fear of being sued or having a labor grievance action brought against them because of their decision to conduct a reasonable suspicion test after drug use is suspected at the worksite.
Both the employer and employee fears can be minimized if supervisors remember that requiring an employee to submit to a reasonable suspicion test is NOT an accusation of drug or alcohol use, nor is it an attempt to diagnose substance abuse or addiction.
Does your policy and management training instill that it is a method for “ruling out” a possible cause or explanation for employee behavior or appearance that is cause for concern?
Here is what you need to know.
What is Sus?
Reasonable suspicion is described as a set of circumstances that give you reason to conduct a “fitness for duty” assessment of an employee based on objective observations.
However, it is not a generalized belief or “gut feeling” about a group or category of employees based on such characteristics as dress, ethnicity, age, or occupation.
Reasonable suspicion is more than a hunch; it is a rational conclusion drawn from objective observations of the individual over a period of time.
Many people can confuse reasonable suspicion and probable cause, and there is a difference between the two.
- Probable cause generally implies that there is evidence to support a probable conclusion—e.g., drug or alcohol use.
- Reasonable suspicion leaves room for an action to “rule out” or eliminate a particular cause for the observed phenomenon.
Reasonable suspicion testing is used to determine that alcohol or drugs are not the cause of the observed behavior or appearance. Drug testing is a mechanism to determine if the employee has used a prohibited drug; regardless of when, or what amount.
How can employers Un-Sus their drug testing policy?
For employers to feel at ease about their drug testing policy, they need to make sure it is well written, fair, clearly stated, fully explained, understood across the company, and compliant with local, state, and federal law in the areas the company has employees.
Failure to do so may lead to monetary damages, statutory penalties, and employee grievances.
However, how strict or broad your drug testing policy is depends on your goals as an employer.
Clearly stating when testing is needed may mean describing a threshold before testing occurs.
Maybe you decide that pre-employment testing is not required, but you want the ability to hold employees accountable for an on-site accident they caused or simply state that being intoxicated at work is not okay. If that is the case, then your policy should specify that all employees are subject to post-accident or reasonable suspicion testing if an accident occurs, or drugs were found at the workplace.
Be sure that your policy, who you choose to be tested, and the reasons for testing, align with your goals as well as state and federal regulations for drug and alcohol testing. After perfecting your Drug Testing Policy, you need to communicate it clearly to all employees and your reasons why these policies are in place.
What are the Consequences for being Sus?
The most overlooked area in a drug testing policy is what to do when there is a non-negative drug test result, which includes: positive, false-positive, or false-negative.
For example, if an employee receives a positive drug test but claims it was likely a prescribed medication, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) or MRO-Assistant can contact the pharmacy or prescribing physician to verify the prescription and dosage and see if it is consistent with the levels found in the donor’s sample. If the prescription is validated, the MRO will report a negative result to the employer.
Employers who do not want to terminate their employee for a non-negative drug test must consider other options in their drug testing policy.
These options include:
- Relieve employee of work duties: A company does not want to put the employee or other staff at risk if the result of the test is known to be positive, especially in safety-sensitive positions. So, consider moving the employee to a desk-position for a while and for how long.
- Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP): This is a return-to-work program that details when and how to get the employee back on the job by having them participate in a treatment or counseling program. After the employee completes the EAP, the employer may bring the employee back to the workplace.
- Ease the employee into work duties: If an employee participates in the Employee Assistance Program and returns to work, the focus should be on continued recovery and easing back into work duties.
This encourages confidence that the employer is not “out to get the employee” if a post-accident or reasonable suspicion test is required.
How do you Sus-essfully manage your Drug Testing Policy?
This all depends on how well-trained your supervisors are on the drug testing policy and the reasonable suspicion process.
Remember, the overall goal of Reasonable Suspicion Training is to protect public and workplace safety by ensuring the removal of employees from safety sensitive duties when their behavior and appearance indicate possible illegal drug use or alcohol misuse.
Basically, it gives a company eyes and ears throughout the workforce, with supervisors acting as the frontline defense for workplace safety.
The supervisor’s responsibility is to be alert to changes in the employee’s behavior and/or appearance, not to a specific set of symptoms associated with each drug or drug class.
- identify the specific observations of employee behavior or appearance that justify a reasonable suspicion test,
- confront the employee concerning the requirement to undergo reasonable suspicion testing, and
- fully explain the consequences of the employee’s refusal to comply.
Deciding that a reasonable suspicion test is necessary involves the supervisor’s specific interaction with the employee and should always be made based on current information.
In the absence of current signs and symptoms, a reasonable suspicion drug test would generally not be merited on a past incident.
To teach managers how to handle reasonable suspicion, the process and documentation required, and tips to make sure you stay in compliance with those rules, we offer online reasonable suspicion training.
Get 1 hour RST management training on:
- Reasonable Suspicion
- Signs and Symptoms
CNS Occupational Medicine can help with customized policy development
Drug testing policies can be complicated and should consider:
- Purpose of the Policy
- Specimen Types
- Testing Procedures
- Prescription Drug Disclosure
- Federal Regulations (DOT)
- State Drug Testing Laws and Marijuana Laws
- Workers’ Compensation
- Prohibited Conduct
Our Occupational Medicine Team can also develop a custom workplace safety plan for your company. You may need a combination of services like physicals, COVID-19 testing, and drug testing, and you may also need these services performed on-site.