This article was written by Rochele Bertasso, Senior HR Business Partner at Helpside.

It is a human resources issue that no employer wants to deal with. An employee’s actions, speech or behavior leads you to believe that the employee may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Workers impaired by drugs or alcohol can cause serious damage to your business due to increased absenteeism, lower productivity, higher workers’ compensation claims, and more on-the-job injuries and accidents. To maintain a safe and productive work environment, employers should take action to prevent employees from coming to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs. So, what should you do if you find yourself in this situation?

Have a written drug and alcohol testing policy

First, all businesses should have a written drug and alcohol testing policy that outlines the different reasons an employee may be tested, including under reasonable suspicion. Getting this in place before an issue arises is key. Employees should sign the policy upon hire and anytime the policy changes. Without this, conducting any type of drug testing can be risky for an employer.

The guidance below assumes that the company has a written drug and alcohol testing policy that incudes testing for reasonable suspicion and requires employees to consent to such testing upon hire.

What does reasonable suspicion mean?

Your drug and alcohol testing policy should outline what reasonable suspicion means to your company. Typically, it means that at least two members of management observed the employee’s actions, behavior, speech, etc. and each came to the independent conclusion that the employee may be impaired while at work.

Executing a reasonable suspicion drug screen

Reasonable suspicion drug screens can be complicated to execute correctly. Following these steps will help ensure a uniform procedure is followed anytime a similar situation arises.

Step 1 – Record co-worker complaints and concerns (if applicable)

Often a manager will become aware of an issue with an employee due to complaints or concerns from co-workers. Ask what the co-worker observed, when it was observed, if this is the first time the behavior was observed (possibly indicating a pattern of behavior) and if there were any other witnesses.

Step 2 – Observe the employee

Two members of management (for example the employee’s direct supervisor and an HR person or other supervisor) should independently observe the employee in-person as soon as possible. Observe the employee from afar and then speak with the employee as well. Listen for slurred speech and attempt to observe if the odor of drugs or alcohol are present.

Step 3 – Remove the employee from safety-sensitive areas

If the behavior observed is consistent with impairment and the employee is working in a safety-sensitive environment (for example driving or operating heavy machinery), immediately remove the employee from the safety-sensitive work area while the investigation continues.

Step 4 – Document the observations
Both observers should clearly document what behaviors they observed independently, being specific about the details they observed without stating any conclusions. Creating and using a standard form for this process will make the process easier. Helpside has a form clients can request by emailing

Step 5 – Make a decision

After documenting the situation, supervisors involved will need to review what was observed and make a decision about next steps. If it is agreed that the behaviors observed are cause for reasonable suspicion, move on to Step 6. If it is determined after observation that a reasonable suspicion of use of drugs or alcohol does not exist, no further action is necessary. Documentation of the compliant and observations should be retained in case questions arise in the future.

Step 6 – Meet with the employee

The supervisor and a manager level witness (in many cases this would be the second observer) should meet with the employee in private and explain what has been observed and that in order to rule out the possibility of the employee violating the company’s drug and alcohol policy, a reasonable suspicion test will be performed. Clearly explain the next steps including transportation, testing procedure, and what will happen if an employee’s test is negative or positive.

If employee agrees to take a test:

Step 7 – Prepare transportation and send employee for testing

If an employee is suspected to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs (which is the entire reason for the reasonable suspicion test), they should not be allowed to drive to the drug testing center or home afterward. Provide the employee with transportation via Uber, Lyft or cab if possible, to the testing location and home.

Step 8 – Wait for results

In most cases, it makes sense to not allow the employee to return to work until the drug test results are returned. Check with the testing facility and provide the employee with expected turnaround time.

If the test result is negative, call employee back to work.

  • If the test results are negative, the supervisor should contact the employee and return him or her to the previous job and work shift as soon as possible. It is recommended to pay employees for shifts missed during this time (even if payment is not required by law.)

If the test result is positive, refer to company policy.

  • Company policy may state that an employee is immediately terminated for a positive result. The policy may include a last chance agreement that allows an employee to seek treatment and return to work if subsequent tests are negative. It is also a good idea to refer the employee to the EAP for assistance.

If employee refuses to take a test, respond to employee’s refusal to test.

  • The written company drug and alcohol policy should state how a refusal to test will be treated. In most cases it will state that the refusal is treated as a positive drug test result or immediate termination of employment. If the employee refuses provided transportation and attempts to drive home, the employer should never physically restrain the employee. Take note the employee’s make and model of car and license plate and contact the authorities to report concern that the employee is driving under the influence.

Always be sure to check specific state laws for any restrictions on drug testing. Also, in unionized workplaces, drug testing rules for union applicants may have to be negotiated.

For difficult HR situation, having a plan in place for supervisors to follow makes the process easier. If you have any questions about drug testing, feel free to reach out to the Helpside HR team at