Handling Suspected Drug or Alcohol Abuse

When handling a for-suspicion situation, be sure to have a workplace drug and alcohol testing policy in place and remember these five actions...




Doug, a manager for a large warehouse, heard rumors that one of his warehouse workers, Steven, had been acting strangely. Apparently, he’d been showing up late, taking long breaks, and seemed generally out of it. This was uncharacteristic of Steven who was normally a great worker. Doug decided to check it out.

Doug went to the warehouse and found Steven. As he was talking, he noticed Steven had difficulty holding a train of thought. He also looked disheveled and had bloodshot eyes. Doug then smelled something like marijuana. He asked Steven to come to the office where he asked if he’d been smoking pot. Steven danced around the question for a while, but finally answered that he had. Doug shared with him that he appeared to be under the influence, and took him for a drug test. Not surprisingly, Steven tested positive and was terminated, per company policy.

Did Doug do the right thing with Steve?

Yes. Doug immediately investigated the rumors, witnessed Steven’s impaired behavior and appearance, and then spoke privately with him. With all the facts pointing to reasonable suspicion, Doug took Steven to be tested and then disciplined him appropriately, per company policy.

When handling a for-suspicion situation, remember these five actions:

  1. Investigate: When you hear rumors of strange behaviors that may be alarming and uncharacteristic, look into them right away. Drug impairments diminish over time and may not seem problematic if an investigation is delayed.
  2. Question: Ask the employee directly, in private, if they are under the influence. Don’t be surprised if the employee denies the accusation or if it takes them a while to be honest. Focus on whether the person is demonstrating behaviors that indicate they are under the influence at work.
  3. Test: With a company policy in place, you can conduct drug testing in most states for reasonable suspicion. Be sure to have the test reviewed by a medical review officer (MRO).
  4. Discipline: Review your company policy and discipline the employee consistently in regards to how violations have been handled in the past. If this is the first occurrence, remember that you are setting the precedence for any future violations. Discipline the employee in accordance to how the policy advises.
  5. Document. Keep a record of every step taken throughout the process, including the investigation, any findings discovered, and the disciplinary action implemented.

Maintaining a drug-free workplace contributes to the safety of your workplace. Improper administration of a drug testing policy – or acting in the absence of one – can lead to serious problems. Supervisors should receive regular training to understand and be reminded of company policies and their responsibilities.

Please contact our HR experts at HR@stratus.hr with any questions about handling suspected drug or alcohol abuse at work, or how to get a drug-free workplace policy setup for your company.

Source: EPLIpro.com (amended)

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