In this, our third and final article in the Substance Abuse series, we examine several suggested tips and protocols in the event of suspected substance abuse by an employee.
1. Reasonable Suspicion
Suspicion of substance abuse by a particular employee calls for action on the part of management. What constitutes “reasonable suspicion”? “Reasonable suspicion” is more than just a feeling but less than probable cause; it refers to observed facts based on the surrounding circumstances. Some examples include alcohol on the breath, the inability to respond appropriately to questions, lapses in performance and the physical symptoms of alcohol or drug influence.
What should management do in a case of “reasonable suspicion”?
- Notify HR immediately
- Quietly escort the individual to a private location for a discussion
- Attempt to locate another supervisor as a witness
- Express your concerns to the employee, including specific facts and observations
- Define expected standards
- Allow the employee a chance to respond
- Depending on employee’s responses and the advice of senior management, possibly place employee on suspension, pending a formal investigation
- Arrange for a drug test
- Organize an escort home for the employee
2. Drug Testing
When an employer becomes reasonably suspicious of an employee, it is acceptable at that point, in most circumstances, to order a drug test. Other circumstances when a drug test may be acceptable include:
- When screening before hiring
- During a physical examination
- During testing following an accident
- As part of random testing, although the legality of random testing in California is very limited
3. Post-Testing Investigation
Following a drug test, human resources should conduct an investigation into the matter. Following the investigation and reviewing the results of the drug test, a course of action should be determined.
If the employee returns to work, management should continue to carefully monitor the employee’s behavior and performance.
4. ADA and FEHA
It is important to note that employees and applicants found to currently be abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs are not protected under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Additionally, under California employment law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) also does not protect employees who are under the influence of drugs. However, recovering drug and alcohol abusers are protected and should be treated with care.
Both HR and management should be familiar with the signs of substance abuse and immediately report and document all concerns and suspicions. When necessary, experienced human resources consultants can assist.
Keep in mind that the safety of all employees and the security of the company should be top priorities. Employees who are abusing substances will inevitably create safety and performance problems in the workplace. Ignoring suspected substance abuse issues can become very costly for a company. Quick action will help the employee receive crucial help and create a safer and more productive environment for the remainder of employees.