Best Practices for Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

Many employers include reasonable suspicion drug testing as a component of their drug-free workplace policy. When done properly, it is a reliable testing method that can help deter and detect drug and alcohol use and impairment in the workplace. When done improperly, it can open your organization up to operational nightmares and legal risk.

Employers who have a clearly written drug and alcohol policy that includes testing for reasonable suspicion should also have a well-defined process for responding to reports of impairment and initiating testing. Below are some best practices to follow when initiating reasonable suspicion drug testing:

  • Observe. When concerns of employee impairment are brought forward, managers and HR professionals should take care to confirm, through their own firsthand observation, the circumstances giving rise to the complaint. Firsthand observation should be made by at least two individuals – either two members of management, or, an available manager and a member of the HR team – in order to avoid any impression that the decision to send the employee for a drug test was made arbitrarily, or as the result of some animosity between the observing individual and the employee. This firsthand observation may be done by observing the employee from afar, or by engaging the employee directly to observe any characteristics of impairment that may be easier to establish up close (i.e., the smell of alcohol or marijuana, slurred speech, unsteady movements, “dancing eyes,” etc.).
  • Remove. If the employee is working in a safety-sensitive role, or if their behavior may imminently affect the safety of other employees and/or customers, managers and HR professionals may need to act immediately to remove the employee from their immediate work area and ask them to wait in a conference room or office.
  • Document. Both observers should clearly document their observations, using objective and behavioral terms, and avoid any attempts to “diagnose” the employee. For example, rather than stating that an employee is “stoned,” the individuals who observed the employee should specifically describe any abnormal behaviors they witnessed by using the language of the senses – what they saw, what they heard, what they smelled.
  • Consult. After clearly documenting the situation, managers and HR professionals should meet to assess what was observed and whether reasonable suspicion drug testing is appropriate.
  • Act. If reasonable suspicion testing is warranted, management and HR should inform the employee of the observed behaviors and that, in accordance with the company’s drug and alcohol policy, the company will send the employee for a drug or alcohol test. If the employer has not already done so, it should obtain a drug testing consent form from the employee at this time. Testing should be done promptly, and employers should arrange for transportation to and from testing, in order to ensure the employee’s safety.
  • Follow Up. Prior to implementing a reasonable suspicion drug testing program, employers should determine what actions they will take in response to specific testing outcomes so that those actions can be applied consistently across their workforce. Will a positive drug test always result in termination? Will employees be referred to an EAP, or offered the opportunity to go through a rehabilitation program prior to termination? What will the employer do if an employee tests negative? Remember, a negative drug test only means the employee was not impaired by alcohol or drugs. It does not mean that the employee was not impaired by another reason, such as the legal use of a prescription drug, lack of sleep, illness, etc. Regardless of the reason, employers should have a process to discuss the employee’s impairment as a performance issue and take appropriate action.
  • Train Your Supervisors! Management training is a key component in implementing a reasonable suspicion drug testing program. Front-line managers are the “eyes and ears” of the organization and are often the individuals who first notice signs of impairment and initiate the reasonable suspicion testing process.  Managers and supervisors should receive training on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of impairment, and how to appropriately respond so that they can assist the organization in providing a safe and productive work environment for employees, as well as limit legal risk.


For more information, join us on October 29th for “Reasonable Suspicion Impairment Intervention Training for Managers and Supervisors,” and learn how to identify the signs of impairment and best practices for reasonable suspicion drug testing.