Reasonable Suspicion Testing Should be a Key Component of your Drug-Free Workplace

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Reasonable suspicion drug testing, sometimes called for-cause drug testing, is used when an employer has a strong reason to believe that a worker may be acting under the influence of drugs or alcohol while on the job. The employer can require the employee to immediately get a medical evaluation and/or drug test to confirm or refute the suspicion that the employee is impaired.

Reasonable suspicion testing is an important component of an overall drug-free workplace program, primarily because it serves as a very effective deterrent. When workers know their employer has a standing policy of testing anyone suspected to be impaired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at work, they are less likely to use substances on the job.

But such drug testing is not something an employer does sporadically. Reasonable suspicion testing needs to be applied methodically and consistently, in accordance with a broader policy on reasonable suspicion.

What are triggers for reasonable suspicion? What do you look for?

There are various indicators that someone may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or exhibiting signs of a medical issue. The biggest flag is an observable change in the employee’s behavior, attitude and/or appearance. Through a reasonable suspicion program, supervisors – and quite often other employees – document what they’ve seen or experienced that is concerning. These observations should be specific, not vague or generalized. They should be contemporaneous, describing something that’s happening at the time of observation, not a generalized suspicion that an employee has been impaired in the past. And all observations must be articulable — something that can be readily explained, not simply a gut feeling.

How do you design and implement a program?

Once you decide to make reasonable suspicion part of your drug-free workplace program, there are several key steps to creating and implementing your program.

  • First, establish your company policy. You’ll need to make and incorporate certain decisions into your policy, such as:
    • What constitutes reasonable suspicion — which circumstances will you test?
    • Who is responsible for enforcing your policy?
    • How will your policy be communicated to employees?
    • Where and how will employees get tested?
    • In what situations will you send the employee for a medical evaluation? What actions will you take for a positive drug/alcohol test or if an employee refuses testing?
    • How will you handle employees who are awaiting results?
    • What type of assistance will your company provide? Are there return-to-work agreements?
  • Determine your documentation method. A best practice is to create or utilize a standard impairment observation worksheet, which includes checklists for observation categories as well as free form fields for commentary.
  • Determine your testing method and protocol. In general, you should test the employee as soon as possible, whether that’s in-house or off site. If you will be sending employees out for testing, make sure to arrange for transportation.
  • Provide training. Supervisors should be trained on your reasonable suspicion policy and what constitutes reasonable suspicion and would trigger a test. You can also provide some form of this training to all employees, so they too can identify if one of their coworkers is having an issue, as well as obtain a general awareness of your policy/protocol for themselves.
  • Apply the policy consistently. Follow your policy and processes for every employee (any level, any role) who has observable signs of impairment. No exceptions, no preferential treatment.

Reasonable suspicion testing can be one of the most challenging aspects of a drug-free workplace program; however, it can have a profound impact on the safety and productivity of your workforce. When properly administered, it is a fair and reliable testing method that can help to both dissuade and detect drug and alcohol use.


Dr. Todd Simo

Dr. Simo is the Chief Medical Officer and the Managing Director of Transportation at HireRight. He served as HireRight’s Medical Director starting in 2009 and was promoted to Chief Medical Officer in 2015. Dr. Simo was also appointed to the role of Managing Director of Transportation in 2018. Dr. Simo came to HireRight with a decade of experience in the medical consulting arena. Before that he was Medical Director at an occupational health clinic in Virginia and owned a consulting firm providing medical director services to employers across the United States.

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