In This Article


Reasonable Suspicion Drug Test: What Employers Need to Know

reasonable suspicion drug test

Maintaining a drug-free workplace is critical for preventing accidents, reducing turnover, and protecting the safety of your employees.

Did you know that employees who struggle with substance abuse are 3.6 times more likely  to have an on-the-job accident?

One way to maintain a drug-free workplace is to test employees that display signs of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs at work.

At iprospectcheck, we coordinate reasonable suspicion drug tests for employers across the U.S. in a variety of industries.

Here’s what you should know about reasonable suspicion drug tests and how to conduct them.

What Is a Reasonable Suspicion Drug Test?

Reasonable suspicion drug testing is a type of testing program employers use when they find evidence or make observations indicating an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol at work.

It is different from random testing because it is only performed when a manager or another employee has made direct observations of an employee’s unusual behavior, symptoms of substance use, or possession of marijuana, alcohol, or other drugs in the workplace.

Upon making these types of observations, the employer can send the employee for an immediate drug test and medical evaluation to check whether they are impaired as well as determine the cause of their impairment.

Why Is Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing Important in the Workplace?

There are many benefits of incorporating reasonable suspicion drug tests, including:

  • Mitigates risks of accidents, injuries, and potential litigation through the removal of drug and alcohol users from safety-sensitive roles.
  • Provides supporting evidence for the basis of a warranted adverse employment action based on substance abuse at work.
  • Protects against potential discrimination complaints by having a standard policy that is consistently applied to all employees.
  • Serves as a deterrent to employees who might otherwise use drugs or alcohol while working.
  • Reduces costs caused by employee abuse of substances, including productivity losses, high rates of absenteeism, increased workers’ compensation claims, and workplace accidents.

What Constitutes Reasonable Suspicion for an Employer to Drug Test an Employee?

Before an employer can order an employee to test, they must have a reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol through direct observation.

Some of the signs of substance abuse an employer might watch for are listed below.

Physical Signs of Substance Abuse

  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Bloodshot, watery eyes
  • Balance problems
  • Coordination problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Physical tremors
  • Unexplained shivering or sweating
  • Fidgeting
  • Chemical odors
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Poor grooming

Behavioral Signs of Substance Abuse

  • Absenteeism
  • Chronic tardiness
  • Drop in productivity
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Money problems
  • Employee theft

Psychological Signs of Substance Abuse

  • Personality changes
  • Sudden, inexplicable mood changes
  • Paranoia
  • Trouble concentrating or focusing

What to Do if You Suspect an Employee Is Under the Influence

1. Observe the Employee

You should observe the employee for signs of impairment.

Don’t rely on workplace gossip as the sole reason for sending the employee for a reasonable suspicion drug test.

Instead, make the observations yourself.

2. Ask a Second Manager or Supervisor to Observe the Employee

If you think the employee might be impaired based on your observations, ask another supervisor or manager to also observe the employee so that you can confirm your suspicions.

3. Remove the Employee From Their Duties

If the employee is working in a safety-sensitive job, don’t wait to remove them from performing their duties.

Instead, remove them until you have figured out why they appear to be impaired.

4. Document Your Observations

Make sure you document in writing what you observed to support your basis for conducting reasonable suspicion drug testing.

The documentation should include the date, time, specific indicators of impairment you observed, the name of the second observer, your name, and the employee’s name.

Be specific with your observations to provide a clear picture of what you observed. Carefully document your observations.

5. Meet with the Employee

If after observing the employee, you believe they are impaired, request a meeting with them in private.

Tell the employee what you observed, and give them a chance to respond. Next, inform the employee that a reasonable suspicion drug test is required.

6. Send the Employee for Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

Inform the employee that they need to take a reasonable suspicion drug test immediately.

Don’t allow the employee to drive to the center. Instead, drive them to the testing center or arrange for an on-site administration.

You can also get on-site drug screens from iprospectcheck. Make sure you arrange for immediate testing so that the employee will remain within the detection window.

Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing Laws for 2022

Certain regulated industries are allowed to perform reasonable suspicion drug testing. State laws about reasonable suspicion drug testing might vary.

Let’s take a look at some of these laws.

Industry-Specific Regulations

Department of Energy

Under 10 CFR § 707.10, employers regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the Department of Energy can conduct reasonable suspicion drug testing for the following reasons:

  • Observation of the employee’s use or possession of illegal drugs
  • Observation of symptoms indicating impairment by illegal drugs
  • Observation of an employee’s pattern of erratic behavior
  • An employee’s investigation for or conviction of a drug offense
  • Information provided by a credible source
  • An employee’s tampering with a drug test
  • A urine specimen given on a drug test that is outside of the temperate range of 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

Under 49 CFR § 382.307, trucking companies that are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are required to provide reasonable suspicion drug tests to drivers they suspect of violating the alcohol or drug requirements.

A reasonable suspicion exists based on specific observations of a driver’s appearance, odor, behavior, and speech.

For alcohol, these observations must be made immediately before, during, or immediately after a driver has been subject to the alcohol prohibitions for commercial drivers.

Alcohol prohibitions for commercial drivers include the following:

  • No measurable amount of alcohol in their system within four hours of going on duty or driving a commercial vehicle
  • No operating under the influence or using alcohol while driving
  • No transporting alcohol unless it is a part of the shipment

State Laws

California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA)

Under Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15 § 8200, prison and jail employers in California can conduct reasonable suspicion drug tests on their employees when they reasonably suspect that they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Reasonable suspicion can be based on any of the following:

  • Directly observing the employee’s possession or use of drugs or alcohol
  • Directly observing the employee’s behavioral indicators of being impaired
  • An employee’s pattern of erratic behavior
  • Corroborated information provided by a third party
  • Evidence that the employee tampered with a drug test

California Private Sector Employers

California courts have typically upheld reasonable suspicion drug testing when it is based on direct observations of an employee.

Under Cal. Lab. Code §§ 1025 – 1028, private employers with 25 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations to any employee who wants to enter a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program.

5 Best Practices for Conducing Reasonable Suspicion Drug Tests

Follow these best practices when you implement a reasonable suspicion drug testing program at your company:

1. Include Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing in Your Company’s Drug Testing Policy

You should have a written drug testing policy at your company that clearly details when reasonable drug testing will be used, the types of observations that might prompt it, and how it will be conducted.

Having a written policy can ensure your program is standardized and consistently used with all employees who are suspected of using illicit substances or alcohol.

2. Notify All Employees About Your Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing Program

Give your employees written notice that your company will be implementing a reasonable suspicion drug testing program along with a copy of your company’s drug testing policy.

3. Train The Supervisory Team

All of your supervisors and managers should undergo training about the signs to watch for and what should happen when they suspect an employee might be under the influence at work.

4. Fully Document the Observations and Retain Copies

Whenever a supervisor makes observations that lead them to suspect an employee is under the influence, they should fully document their observations.

Your company should keep the documentation confidential but retain it in the appropriate personnel file.

5. Don’t Allow an Employee to Drive to the Testing Center

If you suspect an employee is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, never let them drive to a testing center.

If you do, you could expose your company to substantial liability if your employee causes an accident on their way to or from the center.

Instead, either drive them yourself or arrange for on-site administration of the reasonable suspicion drug test.


1. Are Employers Able to Conduct Reasonable Suspicion Drug Tests?

Employers are allowed to conduct reasonable suspicion drug tests when their employees appear to be impaired on the job or are observed to be in possession of alcohol or drugs at work.

Even if your company is located in a state in which recreational marijuana is allowed, you can still take action against an employee who is impaired at work.

2. What Should You Do When an Employee Refuses a Reasonable Suspicion Drug Test?

Treat a refusal the same way you would treat a positive test and take appropriate action. Your drug testing policy should include what constitutes a refusal as well as the consequences of refusing to test.

3. Should an Employee Who Tests Positive for Drugs or Alcohol Be Fired?

Whether you should fire an employee who tests positive for alcohol or drugs at work depends on your state and local laws.

You might not be required to fire the employee. However, you should assist your employee with finding a treatment program regardless of whether you decide to fire them.

If you let your employee come back to work after they complete a substance abuse program, you should require the employee to submit a negative return-to-duty drug screen before they can return.

4. Does a Reasonable Suspicion Drug Test Have to Be Observed?

Employers working in industries that are regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) are required to order tests under direct observation under 49 CFR § 40.67 in the following situations:

  • Evidence of tampering with a drug test
  • Invalid specimen provided
  • Dilute specimen provided
  • Temperature of the sample outside of range

Employers that are not regulated by DOT are not required to order observed collections.

iprospectcheck: Your Partner for Fast & Reliable Workplace Drug Testing

Reasonable suspicion drug tests can help to deter your employees from using drugs or alcohol on the job and prevent associated direct and indirect costs.

At iprospectcheck, we provide an array of drug testing coordination services, including all DOT requirements, random, return-to-duty, post-accident, and reasonable suspicion screening.

To learn more about our drug testing and other clinical services or to obtain a free quote, call us now: (888) 509-1979

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Know Before You Hire

About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.