Reasonable Suspicion Testing - Why is it Important

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Substance abuse in the workplace is a problem with negative consequences for employees and employers.

        A Substance Abuse and Mental Health         Services Administration (SAMSHA) survey         in 2019 revealed that almost 86% of the         nearly 15 million people who reported         using an illicit drug in the last month were         employed full-time or part-time.

        A separate National Institute of Alcohol         Abuse (NIAAA) study reported that about         15% of U.S. workers say that they         consumed alcohol while at work or went to         work under the influence of alcohol during         their careers. 

        A report by the National Safety Council         indicated that employees who use drugs are         3.6 times more likely to be involved in         workplace accidents than non-users. 

        The Journal of Occupational and         Environmental Medicine reported that         approximately 11% of workplace injuries         are related to the misuse of alcohol or         drugs.

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Most people avoid having drug or alcohol use affect their work time and performance, but some employees struggle to keep their substance use from affecting their employment. This problem is likely to become more prevalent as the use of marijuana becomes increasingly mainstream.  

What is an employer to do? Pre-employment / post-offer drug testing is one strategy to limit the risk of bringing someone with a substance abuse problem into your workplace. How can employers address a current employee that they suspect has a problem? Active intervention by an attentive supervisor or manager and proactive promotion of the employer's assistance program are two strategies that may help. An additional tool is a drug-free workplace policy that permits reasonable suspicion drug testing. 

What is reasonable suspicion? It is a legal standard used in workplace drug testing that requires objective and specific evidence that an employee seems to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on the job. 

Examples of behavior or performance that may lead to a reasonable suspicion drug test may include but are not limited to: 

Behaviors such as slurred speech, unsteady gait, staggering, incoherent, etc. 

Physical indicators such as suspicious odors, bloodshot eyes, tremors or shaking, etc 

The presence of paraphernalia associated with alcohol or drug use, or actual substances, etc 

Performance indicators include a pattern of absences, inconsistent or unreliable work, missing from their work area, etc. 

Supervisors called upon to determine when a reasonable suspicion test should occur should undergo training on the topic every two to three years. The training should cover topics such as the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol misuse and abuse, the importance of objective and factual documentation, strategies and approaches to successful interventions, and a review of the policy, procedures, and protocols regarding reasonable suspicion testing. Reasonable suspicion testing is emotionally and operationally challenging for the manager who must request a test be done and for the employee subject to that request. Policies, procedures, and protocols should be clear, concise, and actively communicated to mitigate the strain.  

ScreenSafe has developed an online reasonable suspicion training program. It is still in the development phase, but if you would like to access the course and provide feedback or if you would like to receive a copy of our "reasonable suspicion checklist," please email Bill Heffernan at for the information.  


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