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Employers with a comprehensive drug testing policy as part of their drug-free workplace program often include reasonable suspicion testing, also known as for-cause or probable-cause testing.

Reasonable suspicion testing must be based on individualized suspicion of a particular employee, and employers need to document objective facts that would suggest to a reasonable person that the individual is under the influence in violation of company policy. Supervisors, managers, and HR professionals should be trained in recognizing the signs of substance misuse in the workplace.

This fall, the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association (INEDA) sponsored a Trucking Regulations Workshop. Sheryl Phelps with CJ Cooper & Associates, Inc. was present to provide Drug and Alcohol Supervisor Training for attendees.

There are five steps you must follow when you suspect an employee is impaired:


Personally observe unusual/curious behavior displayed by an employee. You must enlist the help of another trained supervisor if you suspect an employee is exhibiting symptoms that are a violation of your drug and alcohol policy.

Before any evaluation is ordered, TWO trained supervisor/manager-level associates must personally observe the employee and see behavior that indicates violation of the drug/alcohol policy.


Confirm that the physical, behavioral, speech and/or performance indicators you are observing are consistent with what you know about substance misuse. You may not know exactly which substance the person is under the influence of, but you have enough reason to believe this is not normal behavior and the employee may be in violation of your drug and alcohol policy.


The observations for controlled substance use must be described in a written report as consistent with signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse. Get documentation from everyone involved with the confirmation and observation process.


You must notify the employee of your suspicion, describe exactly what you have observed and why it has prompted you to order a drug and alcohol test. Immediately relieve the employee from their job duties. Never confront an employee alone.


Immediately order appropriate evaluations. Do not send the employee to the drug testing center on their own.

How to Approach an Employee

  • Stick to the facts. Base your observations on what you can see, smell or hear. DO NOT approach an employee based on a hunch or what another individual has reported to you. Remember, you have to be able to articulate the reasons why you are suspicious and document that you made those observations yourself.
  • Remind the employee of your company’s drug-free workplace policy. The policy prohibits use of and being under the influence of alcohol and/or illegal drugs on company property.
  • Show concern for the employee. Some medical emergencies or health problems can resemble the symptoms of alcohol or drug use. Explain to the employee that you are concerned about some recent behaviors that you have observed, and you are required to have them evaluated for drug and alcohol use based on those appearances.
  • Listen respectfully. If an employee becomes defensive or denies your suspicion, listen to their concerns and then repeat your observation. Conclude by informing the employee that you are bound by company regulations to order an evaluation based on your position and your observations and that you have his or her health and safety in mind.
  • At least TWO supervisors/managers should approach the employee in a private setting to preserve confidentiality and avoid making a scene in public.
  • State that you are not blaming the employee for anything, but are following corporate policy and procedures.
  • Ask a non-threatening question once you state your observation, such as, “Is there anything you would like to say?”
  • Maintain your composure by using a calm tone of voice and display concern for the employee.
  • Emphasize the word “evaluation” instead of the word “test.” It seems less threatening to the employee.

Documenting Observed Behavior

Make sure you are clear, concise, and specific in your written descriptions. Do not use words like, “I suspect” or “acts like”. Document exactly the action you observed in detail and get witness statements to back up your observations.