Understanding Reasonable Suspicion in the Workplace
- By: Andrew Easler, Esq.
- Published: Aug, 5 2021
- Updated: Mar, 14 2023
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Each year millions of U.S. workers suffer some type of accident or injury while on the job – a small number that can be attributed to alcohol and drug use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 16 million American adults (7%) are currently using illegal drugs, 3.9 million people ages 12 or older (about 2% of the total U.S. population) are current users of prescription drugs for non-medical reasons, and 1.6 million people ages 12 or older (about 0.8% of the total U.S. population) are current users of hallucinogens that were not prescribed by a medical professional (NIDA, 2005).
To gain a better understanding of the dangers present in workplace settings, two studies were conducted to ascertain the potential impact drug abuse has on workplace safety and performance.
Inebriated employees are a safety concern in the workplace. When under the influence of alcohol or drugs, an employee could injure not only himself / herself but also co-workers and customers. The presence of workers who use dangerous substances is also bad for business as these workers are more likely to be absent, have higher rates of payroll turnover, and have higher rates of workplace injuries (Department for Health and Human Services, 2001).
In the interest of safety and profitability, employers need to be aware of reasonable suspicion that an employee is being under the influence of drugs or alcohol at work. This reasonable suspicion should cause employers to investigate further to determine if a violation against company policy has occurred. The best way for employers to avoid liability is to have a reasonable suspicion procedure that balances the protection of individual employees’ constitutional rights with reasonable prevention methods.
“The reasonable-suspicion drug testing program at issue, in this case, struck an appropriate balance between the employees’ privacy expectations and the Government’s legitimate interests in regulating marijuana use, protecting public safety, and keeping illegal drugs out of the workplace” (U.S. Supreme Court, National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab, 1989).
The reasonable suspicion policy should be clearly communicated to employees so they are aware of what conduct is considered reasonable grounds for drug testing. Employees should also know their rights under reasonable suspicion procedures including their right to be informed if reasonable suspicion exists.
As stated in the U.S. Supreme Court case of the National Treasury Employees Union, reasonable suspicion drug testing should include a reasonable investigation before an employee is tested for substance abuse at work. It is recommended that employees who are suspected of using drugs be required to submit themselves to medical evaluations and follow-up substance abuse referrals before reasonable suspicion drug test procedures are used.
The reasonable suspicion policy is not intended to be a witch hunt or be used for general investigations and the results should not be generalized as an indicator of a larger problem with drug use in the workplace. Reasonable suspicion drug testing should only be conducted when reasonable grounds exist that an employee has been using drugs. Reasonable suspicion should be limited to reasonable drug use and reasonable grounds that drug use has occurred (Clear, 2003).
The reasonable suspicion policy should also include procedures for collecting specimens of hair, blood, or urine when reasonable suspicion exists. When a test is administered, the results must be reasonable and non-discriminatory against employees with substance abuse problems. The reasonable suspicion policy should be reasonable and non-discriminatory against employees with substance abuse problems by requiring reasonable grounds for the test (U.S. Supreme Court, National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab, 1989).
By creating a reasonable suspicion drug testing policy and adhering to federal laws that protect employees’ right to reasonable suspicion drug testing, employers can effectively prevent the use of drugs in the workplace. An effective reasonable suspicion drug testing policy will assist employers in creating a safe work environment and decrease the chances of costly lawsuits resulting from accidents caused by drugged employees.
The reasonable suspicion drug testing policy should be reasonable and non-discriminatory against employees with substance abuse problems by requiring reasonable grounds for the test.
[1[Clear, T. M. (2003). Drug testing in the reasonable suspicion context: What is reasonable? Wisconsin Lawyers Journal, 28 (10), 21. U.S. Supreme Court. (1989, April 20). National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab. Retrieved February 11, 2009, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Office of Applied Studies. (2001). Results from the 2000 National
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