Reasonable suspicion training, for both DOT and non-DOT companies, ensures that all supervisory personnel know how to recognize the signs of drug and alcohol use. Also, it teaches supervisors when these signs constitute reasonable suspicion for testing.
Reasonable suspicion training teaches both the standards for reasonable suspicion as well as the signs and symptoms of current drug and alcohol use.
In so doing, supervisors can keep the workplace safe and, in regards to transportation industries, the public safe.
In this post, we will provide an overview of what reasonable suspicion training covers. If you have any of the following questions, then this post will clarify the reasonable suspicion training process for you:
- What is the purpose behind reasonable suspicion training, both DOT and non-DOT?
- Who is subject to reasonable suspicion testing?
- What is reasonable suspicion?
- What constitutes reasonable suspicion for drug testing?
- How can you tell if someone is under the influence? What are the signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol use?
- How many supervisors are needed to make the decision to test for reasonable suspicion?
- What are the steps in carrying out a reasonable suspicion test?
What Is The Purpose of Reasonable Suspicion Training?
In non-DOT settings, reasonable suspicion training is done to ensure workplace safety, productivity, health and culture.
But the federal government is hardly concerned with private workplace culture and productivity. (At least I hope not; they have little ethos as arbiters of efficiency…).
The federal government involves itself in private transportation companies’ business because negligence here is a public safety hazard. When the negative ramifications expand outside the workplace and into the public, the government has grounds to regulate.
The idea behind requiring reasonable suspicion training is to create a net, a series of gatekeepers to the road or airspace or railways. We want to protect little Billy and his parents from Pawtucket from getting T-boned by a drunk CDL driver.
Being clear on this purpose, whether it is for private or public concerns, provides that little bit of added motivation to trainees to buckle down and pay attention. It could mean little Billy’s life.
Who Is Subject to Reasonable Suspicion Testing?
For DOT-regulated companies, all safety-sensitive employees are subject to DOT reasonable suspicion testing.
If you would like to learn more about safety-sensitive positions, and who falls into that category, we have a good post defining the FMCSA and FAA safety-sensitive positions. Even if you are not an FMCSA or FAA-regulated company, it will give you a good overview on which positions are safety-sensitive.
If a supervisor requires a safety-sensitive employee to take a reasonable suspicion test, and they refuse, it is a policy violation.
For non-DOT companies with a drug-free workplace program, it depends on your particular company’s drug-free workplace policy. You have to refer to it to learn who must participate in reasonable suspicion testing.
Most states have their own set standards for drug-free workplace programs and reasonable suspicion training. As a result, different states may require different employees to take part in reasonable suspicion testing. Again, you can find the answer to who must take part in testing in your company’s testing policy. It will reflect these drug-free workplace program standards.
Who Must Take Reasonable Suspicion Training?
Supervisors in DOT-regulated companies must receive reasonable suspicion training. And supervisors in drug-free workplaces must also receive reasonable suspicion training.
What Is Reasonable Suspicion?
You are probably already familiar with the term “reasonable suspicion” as it refers to our legal system; reasonable suspicion is a legal standard of proof that is less than probable cause but more than a hunch. It is based on specific and articulable facts, that can then be used to infer something about the person in question.
In other words, there is factual reason to suspect something of this person.
What Constitutes Reasonable Suspicion For Drug Testing?
In the case of reasonable suspicion for drug testing, those specific and articulable facts are the signs of alcohol or drug use, and the inference is that the employee is drunk or high.
The standard, though, is the important part here. To do a reasonable suspicion test, you do not even have to think that an employee will probably test positive for drugs or alcohol. Instead, you just have to have factual, specific and articulable facts that could be used to infer that that person would test positive. Maybe you can explain them away as having other causes, but that does not change the fact that they are there.
Reasonable suspicion is an inference that someone will indeed test positive for drugs or alcohol. It is not necessarily a likelihood or probability.
So, as long as there are clear signs that you can document and articulate, a reasonable suspicion test is not only warranted but required.
And this standard for evidence holds for both DOT and non-DOT settings.
With this standard of evidence necessary for testing in mind, there is nothing wrong with requiring a reasonable suspicion test that ends up being a negative result. The result of the test is almost beside the point.
Your job as supervisor is to notice the signs that can infer drug or alcohol use, not to have probable cause for thinking the employee is using drugs or alcohol. You do not need any proof further than the signs themselves.
Even one clear sign is enough to require a test, so long as it is clear. If supervisors are to know when to test for reasonable suspicion, they must understand the reasonable suspicion standard.
In review, it is not necessarily that you think they would probably test positive if tested. Rather, it is that you notice clear signs (or single sign) that lead you to infer that the employee is using drugs or alcohol. Any reasonable suspicion training program must be clear on this standard for testing.
An Additional Standard in Reasonable Suspicion Testing
As just discussed, you must have at least one specific and articulable sign to warrant reasonable suspicion testing. But along with being specific and articulable, supervisors’ observations must be “contemporaneous.”
Contemporaneous means to exist or occur in the same period of time. Your observations must be at the same time period as the suspected employee is either at work or on safety-sensitive duty.
Reasonable Suspicion Alcohol Tests
If you suspect alcohol use, your observations must be of current alcohol use – not just chronic use or withdrawal symptoms. And they must be made when the employee is performing, about to perform, or just finishing performing safety-sensitive functions.
For example, if the employee is at work but is not scheduled to perform safety-sensitive functions on that day, then a DOT reasonable suspicion alcohol test is not allowed. Depending on your company’s policy, though, a non-DOT test may be warranted.
Reasonable suspicion alcohol tests must align with safety-sensitive work because alcohol is not illegal. If an employee drinks alcohol it is not a violation. Drinking while on duty is the violation.
And observations must be of current alcohol use rather than of chronic or withdrawal symptoms because current use is the only kind that will trigger a positive result. Chronic use or withdrawal symptoms will come up negative on a breath test.
Of course, the signs and symptoms of current and chronic use tend to overlap. This is one reason why the standard is not probable cause but instead reasonable suspicion. It may be difficult to determine whether the sign or signs you observe are from current or chronic use.
As a result, you may not be able to say that they would probably test positive if tested right now. You would not have probable cause. But based off of your observations, you could be able to infer drug or alcohol use. So you would have reasonable suspicion.
With the reasonable suspicion standard, you cast a broader net, making it less likely that a safety-sensitive employee puts the public at risk.
Reasonable Suspicion Drug Tests
If you suspect drug use, you can only require a reasonable suspicion test when the employee is at work. That being said, you do not necessarily have to make your observations of the employee in the workplace. For example, if you see an employee smoking a joint outside a bar one evening, this can be grounds for a reasonable suspicion test.
Whether the observations are of current or chronic use is not as important with drugs as it is with alcohol. Drugs stay in your system longer than alcohol, so you are still likely to test positive even if your observations were from drug use several hours ago.
Also, the 5-panel drugs are all illegal, so it doesn’t matter whether the suspected employee is on safety-sensitive duty or not. If they test positive for one of the 5-panel drugs at any time, they are in violation of DOT policy.
How Can You Tell if Someone is Under The Influence: the Signs of Drug and Alcohol Use
Reasonable suspicion training should give you information and tips on how to recognize and classify observations. We like to break down observations by forms and types.
Forms of Observations
First, you make your observations in one of the four following ways:
For example, you may notice that an employee’s eyes look unusually red and bloodshot; you may smell alcohol or cannabis on an employee; you may notice that an employee’s palms are abnormally sweaty when you shake hands; or, you may notice an employee talking way too loudly and frantically to a co-worker.
Types of Observations
Along with the forms of observations, you also need to know the types of observations:
Where the forms of observation involve how you make observations, the types of observations involve what you observe about the suspected employee.
Drugs and alcohol can affect people in different ways. The above types give you a structure in which to categorize the signs you notice.
With mood, you may notice changes in behavior and speech. The suspected employee may be highly energetic or lethargic. She may speak rapidly, or she may speak slowly and incoherently. The main sign, though, is that something is abnormal with the employee’s mood.
Next are the physical signs, which you would notice by an employee’s appearance. Glossy or bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, heavy sweating, nausea, and heavy breathing may all be physical signs of drug or alcohol use.
Remember, though, it is not a valid sign that the employee is sweating profusely if there is an obvious reason for the sweating. For example, they just helped unload heavy boxes from a truck into a warehouse. It becomes a valid physical sign when the employee is sitting at his desk doing computer work sweating profusely. Now something is amiss.
With cognitive signs, you may notice an employee is incapable of holding a logical conversation. Also, you may notice that an employee is unusually forgetful. If it seems bizarre and out of the ordinary, then it is a cognitive sign.
Psychomotor functions involve body movement, particularly voluntary muscle action you intend to perform. In essence, it is body movement you intend to perform. Loss of coordination, a disturbed gait, or slurred speech all fall under the category of psychomotor signs. They are physical actions that do not align with how they were intended to be performed.
Sensory effects involve the suspected employee’s five senses. Drugs and/or alcohol can either diminish or heighten these senses. If you notice that an employee is enjoying music way more than normal, or is especially sensitive to sound or light, then this would be an example of a sign involving sensory effects.
Signs of Drug and Alcohol Use Conclusion
Once you understand the forms and types of observations, you can easily articulate your observations.
With this in mind, you should write down your observations before making an employee do a reasonable suspicion test. First, you need to articulate them specifically and objectively on paper. Then, you can use what you wrote as notes with the suspected employee and with anyone else in the future who might ask for your observations.
A Quick Word of Caution
Part of our goal with this post on reasonable suspicion training is to empower supervisors to make the call to test when the signs warrant it. So we don’t want to put too much on your plate, causing you to hesitate in your decision.
But we do have to note the fact that many medical emergencies can present with similar signs to drug or alcohol use. For example, nausea, shortness of breath, and sweating all can be signs of cardiac arrest.
We don’t want this to stop you from testing when it is warranted. But we do want it to be part of your reasonable suspicion testing process to rule out any medical emergencies before moving forward with testing.
Even if you still think the medical emergency was brought on from drug or alcohol use, safety and health come before testing. Rule it out. Then proceed.
How Many Supervisors Need to be Involved in the Decision to Test?
Reasonable suspicion training should also make it clear how many supervisors are needed to test for reasonable suspicion.
Each agency – FAA, FMCSA, USCG, FRA, FTA, and PHMSA – has its own rules for how many supervisors are required to decide to test for reasonable suspicion. Below we have made a chart that highlights the rules for each agency:
The Reasonable Suspicion Testing Process
Along with determining reasonable suspicion, any reasonable suspicion training program should discuss how to carry out the reasonable suspicion test for either drugs or alcohol.
The reasonable suspicion testing process includes four steps:
- Remove the suspected employee from safety-sensitive functions
- Confront the employee with your observations
- Test the employee without delay
- Upon receiving test results, act on them according to your company’s DOT policy
Remove the Employee
The first step of reasonable suspicion testing involves two tasks: moving the employee and documenting your observations.
You need to move the employee to a safe location, away from safety-sensitive functions. If the employee is indeed under the influence, the longer she spends doing safety-sensitive functions, the more risk for everyone.
As you move the employee from safety-sensitive functions, make sure to document your observations of the employee. Before moving on to the next step, you want to complete this documentation of the evidence. You will be using these notes while you confront the employee.
Also, documenting your observations ensures that they are articulable, specific, and objective. Remember, there must be a clear sign that can lead you to infer that the employee has been using drugs or alcohol. And if you can write down your observations clearly and objectively, you make sure that your observations meet that criteria.
And remember that if you plan on testing for alcohol, your observations of the employee must come while she is getting ready to perform, actually performing, or just finishing safety-sensitive functions.
You want to make sure that you complete and sign your documentation within 24 hours of the reasonable suspicion test or before the test results are released. For an alcohol test, this means that your documentation should be complete and signed by the time of the test, since breath test results happen at the same time as the test.
Confront the Employee
When you confront the employee, your goal is to explain why you removed them from work, describing your observations clearly and your plans to have them do a reasonable suspicion test. It is at this point that you can refer to your documentation.
Ideally, you should meet with the employee in a private setting, where no other co-workers can overhear the conversation. And, if possible, you should have another supervisor with you. The supervisor can help you keep the situation under control as well as help you make the final decision.
During this conversation, continue to observe the employee. Part of your decision to test for reasonable suspicion involves how they react and whether they can explain the observations you made.
Once you have met with the employee and explained your observations and intentions, you must decide whether you are going to carry out the test. You should base this decision both on your initial observations and your conversation with the employee.
And as mentioned earlier, it is ideal that you have another supervisor there to confer with and help you decide.
If you decide to test, you need to be able to explain to the employee the consequences of a positive result or a refusal to test.
Test the Employee
If you decide to test the employee on the basis of reasonable suspicion, you must arrange the test. Either the supervisor or DER should inform the collection site that the employee is headed there for a reasonable suspicion test.
You need to make sure that the employee has transportation to the site. Obviously, she should not drive herself there.
Also, someone should escort the employee. You do not want her stopping along the way for potential adulterants or items that could affect the testing accuracy.
Bear in mind that there is a cutoff for DOT alcohol testing. The alcohol test needs to be done within two hours. After two hours, but still less than eight hours, you can still do the test, but you must document the reason for delay.
After eight hours, you cannot do a reasonable suspicion alcohol test. And you must document whey the test could not be done within eight hours.
In the case where you require a reasonable suspicion alcohol test but it is not done in time, the employee cannot return to safety-sensitive functions until either twenty four hours pass or they show a BAC less than 0.02 on a non-DOT alcohol test.
Also, unlike with alcohol, there is no time cutoff for drugs. While it is best not to delay, you can still do a reasonable suspicion drug test if eight hours or more have passed.
After testing, you must resolve the employee’s work status. For alcohol, the test result will determine whether the employee can resume. For drugs, since DOT urine drug tests can take several days, some employers suspend the employee until receiving the verified result.
You should check what your DOT policy says to do.
Also, make sure you arrange for the employee to get a ride home after testing. They should not drive themselves.
Act on Reasonable Suspicion Test Results
Negative Test Result
If the results are negative, then you must meet with the employee and explain the results to them. Also, you may want to cover any workplace performance problems that were involved in the decision to test.
Just because the results were negative does not mean you were wrong to do the reasonable suspicion test. Remember the standard we discussed earlier in this post. It is not necessarily that you think they would test positive. Instead, it is that there are clear signs that lead to the natural inference that the employee is using drugs or alcohol currently.
With this in mind, you do not need to apologize for doing exactly what you were tasked to do.
Positive Test Result
If the result is positive, you must provide the employee with information on substance abuse professionals. It is then up to the employee to complete the DOT return-to-duty process.
Also, if your company has a zero tolerance policy, you will need to terminate the employee.
When you notice clear signs of drug or alcohol use in a safety-sensitive employee, assuming they are contemporaneous, it is not just allowed but required that you test for reasonable suspicion.
In the case of DOT companies, the knowledge presented in reasonable suspicion training is crucial for the safety of the surrounding population. And for non-DOT companies, this knowledge ensures that the workplace remains secure and productive.
Let us know if you have ever had any experiences with reasonable suspicion testing by commenting below. We’d love to hear how it went and what signs led you to test.