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Reasonable Suspicion Is a Tough Call

Some members of your management team informed you that not just one, but an entire clique, of employees, were exhibiting some behavior that indicated drug impairment. They’d followed the drug-free protocol by documenting the signs and symptoms exhibited. The next step in the process would be to confront those in the group and inform them they must all report for a reasonable suspicion drug test.

That’s not a part of management job criteria that many people look forward to because—well, what if it’s a bad call? The employee may hold a grudge and the working relationship might be damaged forever. Not to mention the fact that your manager is likely to feel a little embarrassed.

If anyone ever expresses dread at having to confront someone about possible drug impairment, don’t hesitate to give them a pep talk—immediately. Your management team is responsible for ensuring that your working environment is a safe place for all workers. Someone whose impaired by drug use is putting, not only themselves, at greater risk of an accident, but all working around them, as well.

What does the law say?

According to Strategic Human Resource Management (SHRM), as a rule, California law doesn’t prohibit employers in the private sector from employee drug testing. For instance, pre-employment drug testing is widely accepted under most circumstances as long as the tests are conducted fairly and consistently for everyone applying for the position.

The ability to drug test changes, however, for your existing employees. Two specific criteria allow for it.

They are:

  • Reasonable suspicion exists and justifies a drug test.
  • The employee, other employees, or a member of the general public is in clear and present physical danger.

Drug-free policies in place

Before you require someone to take a reasonable suspicion drug test—or any drug test for that matter—document your process in writing. If you haven’t hired someone to write your drug-free policies, it doesn’t hurt to have someone fluent in California state law look over your document before implementing it. Doing so can protect you if a disgruntled employee drags you into court one day claiming their civil rights have been violated. When following state approved procedures, It’s highly unlikely that a suit of that type would be successful.

Reasonable suspicion testing must be based on individualized suspicion of a particular employee. First, as touched on above, employers, or their management personnel, must document objective facts that would warrant that an employee is impaired by drug use.

Provide training for management

Before requiring your management and supervisory teams to watch for reasonable suspicion, you need to train them. California state law requires those who directly supervise employees to attend at least sixty minutes of training on controlled substance use. Additionally, they are required to attend the same amount of training on alcohol misuse.

Training must consist of recognizing the physical, behavioral, speech, and performance indicators of probable alcohol or drug impairment.

These observations should be made by more than one supervisor or manager.

Physical signs of drug use

The physical signs of possible drug impairment include:

  • Bloodshot eyes/dilated
  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady gait or uncoordinated movements
  • Shakes or tremors
  • Unexplained sweating or shivering
  • Fidgeting or the inability to sit still
  • Sleeping at work
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Unusual body or breath odor
  • Deterioration in appearance
  • Inability to concentrate

Behavioral signs of drug use

There are behavioral signs of drug use, as well. They include:

  • Absenteeism, which may become extreme
  • Tardiness
  • Decline in productivity
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Money problems—which can include repeatedly borrowing and, even, stealing

Psychological signs of drug use

The psychological signs of drug use can present themselves in the following manner:

  • Changes in personality or attitude
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Irritability and outbursts of anger
  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Unexplained fear or paranoia
  • Inability to focus

Once two or more members of management have documented the required amount of observed evidence, the next step in your company policy should entail confronting the employee. The designee appointed to confront the employee shouldn’t be their immediate supervisor or anyone who documented the observation of suspected impairment.

The designee should be prepared to fully explain the documented information and provide the employee with information regarding reporting for the reasonable suspicion drug test. A copy of the report and testing information is to be given to the affected employee. Of course, your policy should outline that this event is documented as well.

It’s for safety’s sake

Employers who are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation (DOT) are federally mandated to drug test the safety-sensitive workforce. That’s because the department is committed to making the highways and byways of the United States safe places of passage for all who travel here.

Employers of the general workforce drug test for the same reason. They want their employees—and all who come into contact with them—to be safe. No one wakes up and decides they’d enjoy risking life and limb while they clock their eight for the day. No one should have to dread it either.

It might be slightly uncomfortable to tell someone they have to take a reasonable suspicion drug test because they’ve exhibited signs of impairment. It would be worse to have to inform their loved ones that they—or someone who works with them—have been hospitalized due to a serious or life-threatening injury.

If they pop positive for drugs, it’s an opportunity to urge them to seek help. People who abuse drugs tend to ignore the pleas of family and friends who desperately want them to quit. The words might get through if they’re coming from the person who’s notifying them that they just lost their job due to their actions though.

If you’re ever in that position, take the chance. You could change a life—no, lives.


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