How to Train and Talk to Your Managers About Identifying Reasonable Suspicion

January 29, 2019 | Shannon Shoemaker

Reasonable suspicion testing is carried out when supervisors have evidence or reasonable cause to suspect an employee of drug use. For non-regulated testing, an employer has the ability to create their own definition of a reasonable suspicion test. In our recent post, HR Basics Primer for Reasonable Suspicion in Your Workplace, we covered policy, statements, documentation, assessment, and having a established process of immediate drug testing and transportation of the employee who you have identified.

This post builds on laying the groundwork for reasonable suspicion, specifically in prevention, preparation and training managers annually on how it works and the steps your company leaders should go through when they encounter a situation where they have been alerted to and suspect that an employee is under the influence of a controlled substance.

Workplace Manager Training for Reasonable Suspicion Action

Your supervisors and managers are key personnel when it comes to compliance with your employee policy on substance abuse. They will be your witnesses and typically the staff members responsible for documentation. It’s imperative that you conduct regular training for your company leadership and management on recognizing the signs of substance abuse, as well as in how to handle the documentation and action.

Once you have documented the behavior and determined that there is probable cause for reasonable suspicion, taking action involves meeting with the employee face-to-face and following specific steps to ensure compliance when you request the employee submit to drug testing – including giving them an opportunity to explain their behavior, enforcing your company policy, and ensuring the employee has a safe and direct ride to a testing facility and home following the test.

The best training you can offer to your managers should involve thorough familiarity with your company policy on substance abuse, standard operating procedures, and a way to communicate with HR immediately. In-person training, whether through your own HR department or through an outside vendor, should involve role playing scenarios. Role playing as part of this training is critical, as both making the determination about reasonable suspicion and conducting a meeting in preparation to request drug testing are atypical scenarios and compliance is not optional. Through role playing different scenarios, you can raise the comfort level of the managers and company leaders who will be responsible for conducting these meetings.

Role playing should include all possible scenarios, including situations where an employee refuses to takes the test as well as if during your documentation collection and investigation they ask to go to a rehab facility. It’s important to have this policy in place ahead of time and documented in your company policy on employee substance abuse, perhaps in conjunction with your company’s employee assistance program (EAP). No matter how slim the chance, it’s important to be prepared for the possibility that a suspected employee may 1) refuse to take a drug test in order to buy time (your policy should specifically state how soon the test must take place) or 2) admit to substance abuse and request help (some companies will offer some form of assistance for substance abuse rehabilitation, while others will simply terminate an employee – the latter may open you up to lawsuits from employees terminated with cause).

The most important advice you can offer to any member of your staff involved in identifying reasonable suspicion is to be professional whatever the outcome and whether the test is negative or positive. Professional means compassionate but not overly personal, as well as discreet. Only staff members directly impacted should be included in this process or notified about an employee’s substance abuse. Again, this is a weak spot that could expose your company to liability (if an accused employee tests negative and sues your company, for example), which is why having a partner or vendor that is up-to-date on current legislation both state and federal is imperative.

Company Certification in Substance Abuse Training 

Along with your documented company policy statement for reasonable suspicion and substance abuse, you can include a requirement for managers and supervisors to attend training in order to get certified in identifying reasonable suspicion, from observation to documentation to action. Setting this training and certification up as mandatory for your company leadership ensures additional protection against potential lawsuits from employees subject to testing.

What to include in your substance abuse and reasonable suspicion training documentation:

  • Copy of the training agenda
  • Copy of the training materials
  • Dates and times (& duration) of the training
  • Sign-in sheets
  • Copies of any certificates that were issued
  • Signed training acknowledgment forms


Your policy should also include the necessity for managers to work with a member of HR or leadership prior to making the determination that an employee will be asked to submit to a drug test.

If reasonable suspicion methodology is used effectively it can help to maintain a safe work environment. It may be uncomfortable to have these conversations with employees about the conduct, behavior, or appearance a supervisor observed but it will allow your company the opportunity to remove a potential unsafe or unfit employee from safety sensitive work before an accident or incident occurs.

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