When Reasonable Suspicion Suggests Drug and Alcohol Testing is Needed

There is a term called Reasonable Suspicion drug and alcohol testing.  Also referred to as For Cause or Reasonable Belief, these terms refer to a situation where substance testing is done based on a belief that an employee currently is using or has been using alcohol and/or drugs in violation of company policies. The belief forms as a result of a series of observations of employee behaviours on the job leading to the employer making inferences based on those observations.

The Reasonable Suspicion concept is different from random drug testing. Random drug testing involves testing designated groups of employees based on a random schedule with the goal of identifying alcohol and drug use in the workplace. Reasonable Suspicion testing, on the other hand, is based on observed worker characteristics that would lead a reasonable person to conclude there may be alcohol or drug induced impairment.

What constitutes Reasonable Suspicion is a thorny question because there is always an element of vagueness or a degree of latitude in deciding if a person should be alcohol and drug tested.  False accusations can create a lot of distrust of the employer in the future or lead to charges of harassment. That is why the supervisor must be very careful about identifying and documenting Reasonable Suspicion due to behaviours or appearance that is based on:1

  • Physical condition
  • Unusual behaviour
  • Mental alertness

Unfortunately it is still not a simple task because people may perform poorly at work or even act oddly for a number of reasons. For example, someone may have fatigue or working conditions have caused worker stress. It is for these kinds of reasons that Reasonable Suspicion is a contentious issue for many people, but the fact is that the overriding issue is safety of the employee, co-workers and other company stakeholders including the customers.

  • Should apply to employees performing safety sensitive jobs
  • Should not be applied based only on an employee’s job title
  • Observations leading to Reasonable Suspicion must be specific and articulable
  • Represents a suspicion that any prudent and cautious person would have given the behaviour or appearance of the employee

The Reasonable Suspicion process involves 3 steps – identification, gathering evidence, and testing.2 The identification phase includes the observation of work performance, behaviours or appearance. For example, the employee may have aggressive behaviour, has difficulty walking or is now unable to perform job duties that were properly handled in the past.

The evidence must then be documented. The documentation is the written record that explains what was witnessed and/or the patterns of behaviour that indicates someone is impaired. The evidence must be specific, verifiable by independent sources, and concrete.3 For example, a supervisor may document an unusual number of on-the-job accidents coupled with observations of mood swings that include unpredictable bursts of anger. The documentation should include the names of any witnesses, the time and dates of the occurrences and any other observations that support the Reasonable Suspicion.

The evidence needs to be strictly facts and not opinions, and the facts should focus on safety in the workplace. Once the facts are documented, they can then be presented to the employee and the employee asked to submit to a drug and alcohol test.  At that point the employer would rely on tests like the urine drug test or the breathalyser and Oraline Saliva tests to prove or disprove alcohol and drug use.

Reasonable Suspicion is not something that can be defined with one list of behaviours or observations because each set of circumstances will be different depending on the workplace and the employee. It does represent a responsibility of the employer in the efforts to keep the workplace safe.

CMM Technology offer a variety of quality drug and alcohol testing equipment that will play an important role in the administration of the workplace testing program. Testing in a way that meets Australian standards is critical for proving the validity of a Reasonable Suspicion.


1Alcohol and Other Drugs in the Workplace Policy. (2006, December 5). Retrieved April 3, 2011, from Australina Council of Trade Unions: http://www.actu.org.au/Images/Dynamic/attachments/5338/Final%20DA%20Policy%20ACTU%20Exec%20endorsed%205th%20Dec%202006.pdf.

2Authority, C. A. (2011). Alcohol and Other Drug Use in Aviation . Retrieved April 3, 2011, from Civil Aviation Safety Authority – Australian Government: www.casa.gov.au/wcmswr/aod/docs/damp_supervisor.pdf


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