How supervisors can document reasonable suspicion


Employers should always make sure that they do something when they suspect that their employee is under the influence of either alcohol or drugs at work. Remember that there are some steps that management needs to take to properly handle and document situations involving alcohol or drug testing. After all, these steps need to be written with the assumption that your company has a drug and alcohol policy in place that includes drug or alcohol testing for reasonable suspicion. 

And, it’s not enough just to have a general policy statement to allow testing. If you don’t have testing for reasonable suspicion, then it’s a good idea to check out DOT supervisor compliance training. You can also seek legal advice to figure out if this kind of policy can be suitable for your company. This page discusses how supervisors can document reasonable suspicion. 

Receive complaints

Issues that one of your employees is under the influence usually come from vendors, clients, or even co-workers before a manager or supervisor notices. HR professionals or managers don’t desire to send their employees for testing based on gossip or hearsay, though they need to document the concerns or complaints of people who bring this information forward. 

HR professionals or managers can take a couple of minutes to ask the person who complained to state what they observed. The co-worker should also say when they observed it and if other people commented or witnessed this situation. Also, the employer can determine whether the behavior has happened before or is new so that they can figure out if there is a pattern of behavior.

Observe the employee

You need to make first hand observation, but there should be two members of management who should do this. Once you notice this type of concern, the supervisor, HR professional, or manager can visit the work area of the employee for firsthand observation. You should note that the observer can observe the staff from a distance, but often they may need to talk with them directly to observe any eye dilation, smell of alcohol, slurred speech, and many more. 

The HR professional, manager, or supervisor who performs the first observation needs to seek a second member of HR or management to confirm their initial suspicions. The other observer can do their firsthand observation of the staff. 

That said, if your employee is handling heavy equipment or machinery, is in any other kinds of safety-sensitive work, or is simply acting in such a way that they are a safety concern, then a supervisor or manager can immediately remove the staff from the work space and ask them to wait in the office or waiting area.

Document observations

Both observers can document their observations, such as any abnormal behavior. They need to be specific in their descriptions, though they should not try to diagnose the situation. An observation can include odors like the smell of alcohol and body odor, and movements, such as unsteady movements. The observations should also have eyes by checking if the employee has constricted, dilated, or watery eyes, check if the face is sweating, confused, flushed, or blank look, and if the employee has slurred, slow, or distracted mid-thought speech.     

Assess the situation

After you have already documented the situation, an HR professional or manager should assess what they know and see to figure out the next steps. And, if both observers witnessed a behavior that created suspicion and the documents support this suspicion, an HR professional or manager can meet the concerned employee. 

If there are any disagreements, an HR professional or manager must seek the help of a third party so that they can also observe and assist to make a determination. An HR professional or manager can decide that there was not a reasonable suspicion of use of alcohol or drugs, so it’s not necessary to take further action other than documenting the complaint and later observations. 

Meet with the employee

Once reasonable suspicion testing is required, both HR and management need to meet with the staff. The people leading this meeting must explain what they observed and documented by a supervisor and that, to rule out the chances that the staff is in violation of the drug and alcohol policy of the company, the company has to send the staff for an alcohol or drug test. 

You need to explain it in this way so that the employee should not make their conclusions. This assures the employee that you are just following procedures. And, if the staff is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at work, then the test can prove it. If you haven’t obtained a drug testing consent in the past, the HR staff or manager must make sure that there is a consent form at this meeting so that the employee can sign it.

Prepare transportation

An employer must never allow any employee suspected of being under the influence to drive a car. Therefore, an HR employee or manager should make sure that the concerned staff should not drive to the testing area or home afterward. Quite often, an employer coordinates with a cab company to help in this type of a trip.

The employer needs to pay the cab fees as well as tips. The HR employee or manager can coordinate with the driver or Cab Company on whether the employer should pay upfront or in advance. It makes sense to make this arrangement early so that the car is available when required. Another option, if possible, can be to have your manager or HR employee escort the concerned staff to the testing place and drive them home afterward.

It’s worth mentioning that the HR professional or manager needs to call the drug test center to tell them that a staff member is going for reasonable suspicion testing. You should give the employee the phone number of the cab company so that they can call it after the test to arrange a transport home. Remember that if the staff refuses to be tested, then you can refer to your drug and alcohol policy. A policy can state that any refusal may be considered to be a positive drug test result.  


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