6 Steps to Take When You Suspect an Employee is Using Drugs

6 Steps to Take When You Suspect an Employee is Using Drugs

Protect your business and employees by conducting a fair assessment and acting on the results

Employees who abuse alcohol and drugs (including illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter drugs), either on their own time or at work, can pose significant problems for their employers, managers, and co-workers.

These problems can include:

  • diminished job performance
  • lowered productivity
  • absenteeism
  • tardiness
  • high employee turnover
  • increased medical and workers' compensation bills
  • potential workplace violence issues

Employees who abuse drugs and alcohol can also make a workplace more volatile and dangerous, exposing employers to legal liability and other legal issues.

Download your free cheat sheet on How to Deal with Employee Drug Use to learn what to do about employee drug use in your office.

What do you do if you suspect an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol at work? There are specific steps that can and should be taken by management to properly execute and document any situation.

1. Check Your Policy

First and foremost, you must have a written drug and alcohol testing policy. It should include drug and alcohol testing for reasonable suspicion. A general policy statement is not enough to permit testing; if your policy does not include testing for reasonable suspicion, you may want to consult a workplace consulting firm or your legal counsel to help you implement one.

2. Document

Suspicions regarding an employee who may be under the influence may come from co-workers or clients, often before it is noticed by a supervisor. Document any complaints, concerns, behavior patterns or witnesses to the behavior.

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3. Observe

It is important that management also observe the behavior. A second management person should also observe the behavior. Both observers need to document their observations in detail. This should include references to:

  • odors
  • speech
  • eyes being dilated or constricted
  • emotional issues such as agitation or irritability
  • drowsiness
  • excessive sweating
  • other telltale signs

4. Meet

Once the situation is documented and everyone is in agreement, only then should you meet with the employee for a discussion of what has been observed.  And always have a second party at the meeting to act as a witness. You then have the options to follow whatever is stated in your company policy.

 5. Test

Drug testing is a legal issue and may depend on your company policy and legal advisors. If your policy allows for it, contact your drug test facility to notify it that you have an employee on the way for reasonable suspicion testing.

Download a free Employee Drug Test Consent Form template.

If you send the employee for drug or alcohol testing always explain that in order to rule out the possibility that the employee is in violation of the company’s drug and alcohol policy, you will be sending them for a drug and/or alcohol test. If you have not obtained a drug testing consent previously, you should have a consent form available at this meeting for the employee’s signature.

Never allow the employee to drive themselves. Always provide transportation to and from the facility. If they refuse the test refer to your drug and alcohol policy, especially if your policy states that refusing the test will be treated as a positive drug test result or will result in immediate termination of employment.

6. Act on the Results

If the drug or alcohol test results are negative, contact the employee and return them to their prior job as soon as possible. If it is positive, you have the option of sending them for counseling or treatment and returning to work.

Most policies offer return to work rights with a clause that allows for termination if the employee is found under the influence at work again. An employer does have the option to terminate immediately for positive test results.

If you have any issues contact experts, such as SACS Consulting, to help you develop or modify your company policy and handbook.  It’s wise to use people who are professionally trained in drug-and-alcohol-at-work issues, non-physical crisis intervention, verbal de-escalation, nonviolent confrontation management, and employee protection techniques, as well as assistance and training for management and supervisory personnel.

If you need help interviewing your employee read the "PEACE Model of Investigation Interviews" to try a conversational and non-confrontational approach.