Although reasonable suspicion training may seem like a "nice-to-have" addition to your company's mandatory drug and alcohol testing program, in reality, it is regulated requirement. (Learn more in Drug and Alcohol Program Best Practices). According to the US Code of Federal Regulations, 49 CFR 655.43, Reasonable Suspicion Testing (RST) takes place "when the employer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the covered employee has used a prohibited drug or engaged in alcohol misuse.”

Training Is Required

If your workers are covered by a regulated drug testing and alcohol testing policy, supervisors must be trained and prepared for the possibility of reasonable suspicion testing. Only those supervisors or company officers that have had the proper training can make a determination about a worker for reasonable suspicion testing.

Supervisors trained in reasonable suspicion testing will:

  1. Have a sound understanding of the regulations.
  2. Be able to identify the symptoms of drug and alcohol misuse.
  3. Understand the process and documentation requirements.
  4. Demonstrate confidence and respect.

Reasonable Suspicion Training Is Not Random Drug Testing

RST differs from random testing in that there is a reason to suspect the employee is under the influence, while selection for a random drug test is based on set Department of Transportation (DOT) formulas and takes place without warning. Although RST may seem straightforward, the process requires a sound knowledge of the signs of substance abuse and above average interpersonal skills that are usually not needed in routinely scheduled or random testing.

Initiating Reasonable Suspicion Training


Watch for unusual behavior
Take notice of any uncharacteristic behavior or dissatisfactory performance from a worker under your supervision. This behavior may include things like a disregard for personal safety or the safety of others, the improper handling of equipment or materials, or a disrespect for rules and procedures.

Be sure that there is cause

Note speech characteristics or actions that may be consistent with drug or alcohol abuse. A sudden disregard for personal grooming, body odor, agitation, and a variety of other indicators could be tell-tale signs.

Record your observations
Documentation is critical to the process. Keep your records specific, factual, brief, and up-to-date. Note the time, date, and any special conditions. If possible, confirm your observations with a witness. Keep in mind that you are only observing and recording behavior and physical condition. You are not making a diagnosis. Your opinions do not matter — just the facts.

Approach the worker

Although confronting someone that you may know personally or have worked with for several years is difficult, safety and saving lives should be the number one concern. Be discrete and speak to the employee in a private setting. Review what you have observed and why you have determined that a reasonable suspicion test is required. Do not be confrontational. Although the worker may be emotional, it is essential for the supervisor to be calm and confident.

Err on the side of safety
If you feel that your employee, other workers, or the general public might be at risk, it is essential to proceed with reasonable suspicion testing — even if you end up being wrong. Sometimes medical conditions and legal prescriptions will demonstrate symptoms similar to those resulting from substance abuse. (Learn more in Prescription Opioids and Safety Sensitive Work). It is the job of reasonable suspicion testing to determine that as well. Remember, only trained supervisors and company officers can make the call.

Initiate the test
An employer or supervisor must confront a covered worker immediately before, during, or immediately after participating in a safety-sensitive function. An employee must undergo testing for alcohol within two hours of being determined for reasonable suspicion testing while drug testing can occur at any time while an employee is on duty. If alcohol testing does not take place within a two-hour timeframe, the employer must document why testing did not occur promptly. After eight hours, attempts to test must stop and further documentation as to why alcohol testing did not take place is required. In all cases, a refusal to be tested is considered a failed test, and the employee must be removed from any safety-sensitive job functions. Although not mandatory, it is a good practice to accompany the employee to the testing facility or collection site. Do not allow the worker to operate a vehicle that may put themselves or others in danger.

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What's Next?

Employers must inform workers who test positive of all the available resources and refer them to a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) for follow-up. Once the worker has completed any prescribed treatment and is cleared by the SAP, a return to duty protocol will be initiated.

Keep Things In Perspective

Sending an employee for drug and alcohol testing based on reasonable suspicion is not easy, especially if you have a positive relationship with the worker who has been confronted. During this time, remember that your first priority is the safety of the employee, other staff, and the general public, not to mention the legal and financial viability of your business itself. Keeping this in mind will help you to make the right decision when it is required.