Managers and Human Resource specialists regularly deal with many difficult issues in maintaining a safe and productive workplace. Few of those issues are more challenging and sensitive than reasonable suspicion drug screening. Also known as probable cause or simply “for cause” testing, drug screening in these cases is performed when an employee demonstrates behaviors that suggest drug or alcohol use while on the job.
Of course, maintaining a drug-free work environment is critical in ensuring the overall safety of employees and customers. For this reason, it is imperative that such a delicate matter be handled correctly. The following are three essential things to keep in mind when enforcing your company’s drug policy with reasonable suspicion testing.
Let the Law Lead You
Most employers in the private sector are permitted to define and enforce their own policies for creating a drug-free workplace. Apart from certain security (and safety) sensitive positions and industries, such policies are not regulated by federal statutes. Many states have enacted laws that limit drug testing of employees, however.
To protect your company from the risk of litigation, it is advisable to become familiar with your state’s laws when crafting your policy and before implementing any type of drug screening. Your policy should outline and clearly define the measures that your company takes to maintain a drug-free workplace. The consequences of violating said policy should be equally clear and enforced.
Ensure that all employees are given a copy of the policy and can access it at any time through a company handbook, intranet or website.
Train & Protect
The cornerstone of consistent and effective enforcement of your company’s drug policy is education and training. Because of their hands-on role with employees, managers stand to benefit significantly from instruction in the proper handling of situations where employee drug use is suspected. Many companies make such training mandatory for supervisors, and some require annual training to keep knowledge and skills up-to-date.
Effective implementation of your policy can be aided by providing awareness training to all employees. Some workers may be reluctant to report signs of drug or alcohol use in co-workers because they are concerned about damage to reputations and relationships with colleagues. Educating everyone on the risks and the negative impact of substance abuse in the workplace can aid in minimizing these concerns and ultimately help to create a company culture with zero-tolerance for drug use on the job.
Additionally, confidentiality is critical. If employees are assured that their identities will be protected if they report signs of drug or alcohol impairment in co-workers, they are more likely to feel comfortable reporting signs or suspicious behavior.
The 5 R’s
When there is a reasonable suspicion that an employee may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, immediate action should be taken. Consider these five steps as the basic framework for handling reasonable suspicion cases:
Recognize the signs of impairment.
- Supervisors and employees should be trained to recognize the physical and behavioral signs that someone is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
Report the suspicion to the appropriate party.
- Your company should clearly define who is responsible for enforcing the reasonable suspicion testing policy. The manager(s) or HR personnel should be trained to handle the situation with the highest level of delicacy and professionalism.
- Signs of drug use should always be documented, even if they are not compelling enough to warrant reasonable suspicion testing at the time that they are noted.
Remove the employee from duty immediately.
- If an employee is suspected of being under the influence, he or she should be confronted and removed from duty right away.
- Delaying removal can compromise safety, as well as make it more difficult to get accurate drug test results.
Request that the employee complies with screening.
- After removing the worker from duty, the person responsible for handling reasonable suspicion cases should have a brief and confidential conversation with the employee. The drug policy and the reason why he or she is suspected of being under the influence should be clearly defined during that meeting.
- Instructions for submitting to the test should be offered, and if screening is done off-site, the employee should not be permitted to drive to the testing location.
Respond in the manner defined by company policy.
- Your policy determines the consequences of employee drug use on the job. Whether it calls for immediate termination or suspension of duties and a referral for treatment, the policy should be enforced in a clear and consistent way.
- Unless advised otherwise by legal counsel, exceptions based on position type or interpersonal relationships should not be made.
Given the risks associated with drug use on the job, it is in a company’s best interests to strive towards having a drug-free working environment. Reasonable suspicion testing aids in that effort. Yet like most things, it must be done right to be effective.
Developing a clear policy in accordance with state laws, educating staff on that policy, and enforcing it through drug screening can greatly assist in creating and maintaining a safer and more productive workplace.