Monday, July 5, 2021

Reasonable Suspicion Training for DOT Supervisors and the Behavior of Missed Deadlines

Most DOT reasonable suspicion training programs naturally focus on the signs and symptoms of intoxication or substance abuse on the job that employees might exhibit when using substances of abuse.

These immediately observable indicators of possible intoxication are certainly important to understand. However, there are other signs and symptoms that are performance related, and they are important, too.

Performance issues can be more subtle, but they allow the supervisor to look at the total picture and come to a more responsible decision to confront and refer to testing.

Missed deadlines are obviously not a symptom that is directly caused by substance abuse on the job, but are we sure? This is a performance issue, but it can be linked to drug and alcohol addiction. And the chances increase that this is the case following failed attempts by the supervisor to correct the problem.

So, how should you manage such symptoms without violating an employee rights or the drug free workplace policies guidelines?

You can't test an employee who missed deadlines. However, you can get suspicious and keep your eyes open for more signs and symptoms that you can actually document. (And if you have an EAP or an EAP consultant, this is the path to easier intervention when substance abuse intoxication symptoms are not present.)

Employees who do not make deadlines consistently are suffering from a lack of urgency. Urgency is a force that makes you act. It is a natural stimulus associated with the pain-pleasure principle.

A sense of urgency can be undermined by drugs and alcohol, but not because these things can make a person drunk. Instead, substance of abuse including alcohol remove psychological pain associated with matters of urgency in our lives. They prompt procrastination.

This is why alcoholics, drug addicts, food addicts, gambling addicts, and others postpone health care, paying bills, or even brushing their teeth and getting their car washed. (Of course, no all addicts have these characteristics, but you get my point. Drugs and alcohol "short circuit" motivation act.

You may find it surprising, but unless you have been in the "occupational alcoholism" field (which preceded the broad-brush EAP movement of the 70's) for 50 years, you won't have any memory or knowledge associated with the fact that this exactly what failed in the 1950's when supervisors and managers were trained and educated to identify and confront employees who were using alcohol or other drugs on the job. Very few employees were ever so identified. Seldom were symptoms easily found.

What was discovered however, is that performance problems in the way of attendance, quality of work, increased workers' compensation costs for injuries, theft, and conflicts, often pointed to substance abuse, and referring employees to professional counselors for these performance issues would ultimately discover the drug or alcohol addiction. So, this is the rationale for focusing on performance. But there is one other reason, that is even more compelling.

Companies that institute drug-free workplace and testing policies want to reduce risk of substance abuse creating losses of many kinds. The goal is not to "test" -- the goal of a program is reducing risk! Understand this much, and you become a powerful advocate for employee assistance program mechanisms that intervene with job performance issues.

Because of drug testing and drug free workplace policies came into prominence in the mid-1980's, reasonable suspicion training was once again forced into the mainstream of drug-free workplace training, as it had to be, and supervisors began immediately to look for blood shot eyes, alcohol on the breath, staggering gates, and bloody shot eyes.

This is all well and good, but it is critical for managers to understand that performance issues like attendance, quality of work, quantify of work, absenteeism, behavior on the job, and conduct are the driving forces for identifying troubled workers, a percentage of which will be alcohol and drug addicted.

When supervisors focus on all of these performance related issues and attempt to refer employees to the EAP, a significant increase substance abusing employees are identified.

Employees sometimes miss deadlines for various reasons even when clear expectations are set and all the tools and information they need are available to them.

However, when missing deadlines becomes habitual, you need to pay attention, especially if it continues to happen even after you’ve explained in detail how it affects team performance or you've given fair warning. If your employee has always been punctual with deadlines and suddenly starts missing them, you also need to take note.

Employees struggling with substance abuse may find it difficult to keep up with deadlines such as important projects, meetings and appointments, and even regular daily tasks. This becomes increasingly apparent when an employee is distracted by a hangover or withdrawal or when their substance abuse begins to affect their physical and mental health and morale.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Consider Offering DOT Supervisors More Information on the Most Serious Drugs of Abuse like Heroin and Fentanyl

Most supervisors know that they are not supposed to be experts on the signs and symptoms of each type of drug of abuse, but some drugs of abuse are so deadly and destructive, in addition to have plenty of adverse effects on the workplace, that it is worth give DOT supervisors a bit more information about the most serious substances so they are well-armed in the fight for a drug free workplace.

Heroin in spoon

One of these tremendously impactful substances is Heroin, and the man derivatives of it and other deadly opioids like Fentanyl. It might even be worth having a separate DOT reasonable suspicion training module on Fentanyl or Heroin to help managers have better drug and alcohol awareness so they can act on reasonable suspicion.

Consider the following information as a supplement to your DOT supervisor training, but have added this material to course 155 at

Opioids are a tricky group of substances. If the addict can use the right amount, and the right time, and in the right way, it is possible for the supervisor overseeing DOT employees since heroin gets so much attention, it might be valuable to know what the symptoms of its use actually are. 

Heroin on table

Immediate signs of heroin use that might be experienced after dosing may include vomiting, nausea, itchy skin, and dry mouth. 

Although such symptoms alone do not demonstrate heroin use, other symptoms may include the following as the body of the user becomes more affected: sleepiness, drowsy appearance, foggy or confused state, and slow breathing.

Employees who are long-term users may have unexplained skin irritations, abscesses, or infections along with needle marks or bruising. Heroin users typically have severe withdrawal symptoms, and rather than symptoms of use, these withdrawal symptoms are often spotted by supervisors or coworkers: agitation, shakes and cold sweats, bone and muscular pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. Heroin users may look physically well, engaged, and very communicative.

Their lifestyle, however, requires that they learn how to deceive, put on a positive appearance, and lie to those who oversee their work in order to avoid confrontation and detection of their drug use problem.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Critical Follow Tips for DOT Employees Treated for Addiction After Identification for Reasonable Suspicion

One of the most important functions in reducing risk to American workplaces is providing effective follow up and tracking of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.

This task is easier said that done, not just because addicts can be an elusive bunch, but because few addiction treatment professionals really know how to do it well. Why?

The root cause of follow up failure is not lack of good communication. Instead, it is failure to undestand or having a poor understanding of the chronic disease model of addiction--not knowing what is involved in recovery.

Reasonable suspicion training is critical for DOT supervisors, but have ever heard the trainer discus follow?

Everyone knows follow up is important, but very few managers or companies that have a crucial stake in the recovery of the worker and preventing relapse ask, “what happens in follow-up?”

With thousands of dollars spent on one employee after referral to treatment, and enormous risk to self, family, and community, the successful recovery of the alcoholic or drug addict cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, far from being overstated, this topic is often entirely ignored.

In following up an employee treated for addictive disease, especially one who is a DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation) worker referred for using drugs or alcohol on the job, many questions are required and a frequency of these questions asked of the employee is crucial to help the worker move toward complete abstinence of psychoactive drug use and elimination of beverage alcohol entirely from his or her life. Note that any representation to you that abstinence is not required for successful treatment of a DOT employee in treatment, is absolutely unacceptable.

This article therefore is authored to help DOT supervisors and managers, even if they have had DOT training, understand follow-up, what is supposed be going on behind the scenes, and when relapse happens having some appreciation for the dynamics in the big, mysterious “why.”

It goes without say that each contact, whether in person or by voice phone, should be recorded in a note making system. This allows not only a record, but the ability to track the pattern of what I called “diminished recovery syndrome” or DRS. Diminished recovery syndrome is a pattern of behaviors or lack thereof that demonstrate a diminishing involvement in the patient’s self-treatment necessary to recover from addictive disease and move into sobriety.

After treatment, these contacts to be weekly. And the following questions are also included.

Is the DOT Employee Abstinent from Alcohol and Psychoactive Drug Use

Of course, the most important question to asking the newly recovering DOT employee whether or not they have been completely abstinent. Are you thinking that these employees will lie? Think again. Self-reporting is extremely accurate, but another more powerful reason exists, which explains honesty in interview questions and follow-up. That reason is abstinence and excitement at being sober. A week out of treatment, very few employees will drink or use drugs. If relapse comes, typically come many weeks or months later.

The employee should also be queried about  complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs of abuse or substances that could have a psychoactive effect. This includes “Near beer” or “O’Douls beer. If the answer to any question demonstrates relapse, then intervention and motivational counseling to get back into recovery must occur at once.

Abstinence refers to cessation of any alcohol products, medicinal products with alcohol as an ingredient, or other mood altering substances. Consumption of any of these substances is tantamount to relapse. As you can see, it is extremely important for the treatment program to educate the patient about steps needed in recovery. Expect problems otherwise.

Record of: Last contact the employee had with the employee assistance program

DOT workers in recovery should be in touch with an employee assistance program. And every company of any appreciable size should have an EAP. There simply is no excuse in allow the behavioral risk exposure to exist otherwise. And this includes 800# programs that almost entirely rely upon self-referral, and only skim the surface in identifying important and urgent behavioral risk exposures of troubled employees.

EAPs are closest to the employer and present significant ability to motivate employees to participate, and stay involved with their recovery programs. A lack of EAP participation means the employee has the ability to distance themselves from the leverage or threat posed by job loss or some other disciplinary action for failure follow through with treatment recommendations.

We will continue in the next post with more critical questions in follow up. In the meantime, do you need reasonable suspicion training? If so, you can purchase training here at or you can see a preview of the full program at this preview page. You can also print the brochure here and fax it to us or phone us at 1-800-626-4327. Please phone 843-981-4759 if you get voice mail at 800-626-4327. Don’t leave a voice mail.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

DOT Supervisor Compliance Training Online

Substance Abuse in the Workplace: 4 Essential Elements to Stop It From Happening

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires businesses in the transportation industry to ensure that personnel authorized to supervise drivers undergo training on alcohol misuse and controlled substances use. The training covers all factors which may indicate possible substance abuse, i.e., physical, behavioral, speech, and performance factors. Why so?

Substance abuse is a worldwide phenomenon that costs lives. In American society, drug addiction and abuse cost the U.S. “$740 billion annually in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA) 2017 “Trend & Statistics” report.

The problem is complex and requires a multi-pronged approach to be resolved and prevented. This is why industry-specific programs such as the DOT Supervisor Compliance Training Online course, exist.

For employers, nipping the incidence of substance abuse in the bud is essential. Companies bear the brunt of the financial costs of workplace substance abuse in the form of:

  • Safety risks
  • Healthcare costs
  • Low productivity
  • Absenteeism
  • Compensation and disability claims

In the transportation industry, human resources managers and training experts can benefit immensely from DOT supervisor compliance training online. Aside from it being a compliance requirement, it hones the trainee's skills for identifying possible substance abuse among drivers and recommending the appropriate course of action.

How to stop it from happening

In your unique role as HR manager or training expert, the DOT Supervisor Compliance Training Online program is a valuable resource for addressing the issue of substance abuse among drivers.

To guide you in your objectives of resolving and preventing the recurrence of substance abuse, here’s a list of essential elements to stop it from happening:

1. Know what signs to look out for

There are several symptoms abusers are known to exhibit at work. The following are the most common possible signs:

  • Unexplained change in attendance and job performance
  • Drastic personality changes such as anxiety and mood swings
  • Frequent and prolonged bathroom use
  • Sudden lack of responsibility, and difficulty performing ordinary tasks
  • Deteriorating workplace relations

2. HR intervention and corrective action

Substance abuse is a sensitive matter and must be handled with compassion and professionalism. If you have a reasonable basis for engaging in intervention or recommending a course of action (e.g., a drug test), it must be communicated diplomatically.

You must ensure you get to the heart of the matter, or the reason why substance abuse has become a problem. This way, you can recommend further steps to ensure the problem is resolved with no risk of recurrence.

3. Employee education

Over and above HR intervention, prevention is key.

You can discuss the effects of substance abuse with personnel, especially drivers. Focus on how it can threaten their relationships at work, their job security, the company itself, their co-workers, and their families. Talk about the risks irresponsible driving poses to civilians on the road, to property, and the drivers themselves.

Coupled with company support, developing awareness among employees will go a long way in preventing substance abuse in and out of the workplace.

4. Family and social support

Any substance abuse program will have limited impact without the active participation of family members and the required community support.

In individual cases, you will need to reach out to the concerned driver’s family, explain the situation, and get their support. To involve the community at large, you can spearhead information drives to assist and complement company-sponsored substance abuse programs. You can also partner with local government units in furthering the same.

For more information on the DOT Supervisor Compliance Training Online course and more specific ways to manage substance abuse among drivers, get in touch with us today.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Nine DOT Reasonable Suspicion Training Tips And A Discussion for DOT Supervisors for Substance Abuse Education and Awareness

Background on Reasonable SuspicionTraining

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires alcohol and drug awareness training of supervisors who oversee employees in safety-sensitive positions.

This training must encompass one hour of alcohol awareness and education and another hour of drug awareness training and education with the purpose of helping these managers spot the signs and symptoms of substance abuse in the workplace or behaviors that give rise to reasonable suspicion of workplace substance abuse. The also must understand the symptoms of use, hazards of use in the workplace, and effect of the major drug groups on behaviors of workers.

DOT employees consuming substances on the job are at risk for serious accidents

DOT employees using drug and alcohol visual

There is a lot packed into the above paragraph above, but here’s what important to note: That’s about all the DOT says about what must occur regarding training of supervisors. There is not "certification" of supervisors. I am often phoned by companies asking if we certify trainers. Answer: It's not necessary.

Of course many people do training live, and for presenting to a classroom of via ZOOM, you have to be a experienced professional to impart the material effectively.

 You are pretty much on your own to figure out what training should ultimately include.

U.S. DOT Does Not Specify a Heck of A Lot

The DOT does not specify the type of training modality. They don’t mention anything about certification. However the DOT does specify the drugs and alcohol content and what supervisors should know about it.

Note: When the 1986 Drug Free Workplace Act was signed by President Ronald Reagan, five general categories of drugs of abuse were mention specifically, including Phencyclidine or PCP. Remember that stuff? You don’t hear much about it anymore, but it’s still out there. (Controls on its ingredients caused a fast drop-off in its production by drug criminals.)’s training always hit these five major drug categories –

·           alcohol,

·          depressants,

·          stimulants,

·          hallucinogens,



·        Within these categories are host of other drugs of abuse like various opioids, club drugs, inhalants, and odd substances, many of which are illegal but still available off the Internet – peyote, mescaline, bath sales, Spice/K2, Saliva, Ketamine, GHB, Meth, Ecstasy, and more.

Recently, the department of Health and Human Services stated that four different opioids should be included in federal employee/supervisor drug awareness and education. These are all derivatives of hydrocodone and oxycodone. (So, we added these to our DOT training program.)

We wrote this article from experience and include nine tips we think are worth considering when you are training your supervisors in reasonable suspicion. There are more than nine tips that we would like to share, but at the risk of making this article no longer than it is right now, let’s keep it to these nine.

Reasonable suspicion training of supervisors is a lot more than just turning on a video to manager  get educated on this stuff. All supervisors come with a host of experiences, biases, myths, and misconceptions about alcohol, drug abuse, addiction, who gets these afflictions, why they get these afflictions, and what should be done about it once a person realizes they are an addict.

What About Alcoholic DOT Supervisors?

Let’s face it, you may have supervisors who are alcoholics. Often they can be the most opinionated in drug and alcohol awareness classes. Don’t argue with them when they espouse their long held, but deeply wrong-headed ideas and theories about addiction. Some of your supervisors may also have years of recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous. Some may even disclose this to the other supervisors in the class for the first time.

We have an Alcohol Awareness section in our training that is powerful, educational, and amazingly impactful. You can see it here if you jump to the end of the training program.

When discussing reasonable suspicion training, it is important to provide DOT supervisors with background information on training, testing, and intervention with drug and alcohol users in the workplace. There only needs to be a slide or two about rationale for why training and drug use intervention in the workplace is important, but definitely have it.

Background Information Helps Supervisors

Some supervisors may be skeptical about the practicality of drug use intervention in the workplace, and may see drug testing and reasonable suspicion training with a jaundiced eye. There is a business rationale for this activity that boils down to dollars and cents, in addition to lives saved and other immeasurable costs.

President Reagan signed an Executive Order in 1986 requiring the Federal government to institute Drug Free Workplace programs for civilian and military employees. Drug testing was included.

This was a dramatic (and controversial) step toward reasonable suspicion training for substance abuse in the workplace, but dramatic increased treatment of alcoholics and addicts. This of course also help such persons keep their jobs. Indeed, with the Drug Free Workplace Act came a provision to offer workers help when they got caught and tested positive.

These laws helped alcoholics reduce the inclination to hide their symptoms or otherwise go to dramatic lengths to not get caught. Ever see an image of someone pouring brown liquor in a coffee mug? Did you know that Head Shops (retailers of drug paraphernalia) sell plastic office supplies like magic markers that are really cleverly disguised crack pipes (preview our DOT supervisor training program to see more – also Chapsticks lip baums for crack!)

Fifteen years earlier before federal drug free workplace laws were passed, a mainstream movement began to treat alcoholics and addicts as disease-affected individuals. They key hallmark—denial.

This movement gradually affected federal laws governing the handicapped, and eventually protections of addicts—at least within the federal government under Section 504 of the National Handicapped Act began. The policy theory: Addicts and alcoholics are unaware of their diagnosis. They compare themselves “out” of the definition. They look for symptoms they don’t have to convince themselves and others that they do not have addiction; and, if they acquire anew any of these once denied symptoms, they change their definition again to avoid self-diagnosis.

Reasonable suspicion training for DOT and Non-DOT supervisors, then, is the only pathway to protecting life and limb, or helping confront these individuals to seek help.

EAP Employee Assistance Programs and human resources management have stayed in pretty solid agreement on the value of salvaging addicted employees for one reason – treatment works and alcoholics recover.

Alcoholic and Drug Addicted Employees Bounce Back

When alcoholics recover, they often bounce back 101% -- they get well, but go beyond that to get better than well. They improve their wellness mindset, they experience improved emotional health. They dedicate themselves to work more definitively and they become loyal workers who are thankful for their new station in life.

Addicts in recovery begin making more effective life choices than non-addicts. They become your “Eagle Scout” workers if they remain in solid and continuous recovery programs.

They become super valuable workers. Do relapses happen? Yes, relapse does happen, but every disease has relapse periods or elements. What’s the intervention then? It’s swift—get the worker back on their program even it means the absolute threat of job loss. But this is key, never see a relapse as a return to the same massive problems that led to the admission in the first place. Rely upon effective employee assistance program systems to monitor recovering workers and spot their early symptoms of pending relapse. It is not hard to do.

The bottom line is that with good follow up, companies save a ton of money if they push addicts into treatment and prevent their termination. And they reap the financial rewards for doing so.

Testing people’s urine has always been controversial, but the courts ruled in favor of employer safety, (and sanity) and after an AMTRAK train piloted by drug using employee in the Baltimore, Maryland area killed a bunch of people, the controversy pretty much dissipated. The drug of choice in that incident was marijuana.

For over ten years prior to 1986, and actually a lot longer than that, alcoholism was viewed as a disease process by the Office of Personnel Management of the Federal government.

The federal government treated alcoholism as an illness like any other (covered under Section 504 of the National Handicap Act) and enormous latitude given to help active alcoholics. The ADA did away with this and made it easier to fire alcoholics, not protect them. This cause the treatment industry to grow rapidly. Even the CIA Alcohol Awareness Program began under Stansfield Turner.

The laws regarding rehabilitation non-discrimination, and OPM’s interpretation of them had its history in the occupational alcoholism movement, NIAAA, and the experience of recovering alcoholics many of who were attorneys like the late Frank Ridley, Esq. founder of the Legal Action Network for Alcoholic Recovery in Washington, D.C.

This movement to fight for addicts and help them “recover them from job loss” would eventually be turned on its head by the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1991.

I distinguish firm choice letters from “last chance” letters – because last chance letters do not typically address treatment, follow-up, accommodation, illness, and key communication issues crucial to success.

The idea helping alcoholics and viewing the alcoholic as blind to their illness is the basis of the FIRM CHOICE LETTER – which in effect is an accommodation, not a punitive action to help an alcoholic accept help or lose something they value more like a paycheck.

 If the accommodation to accept an assessment and appropriate help is not accepted, GOOD BYE!

Thousands of alcoholics have gotten sober this way. And this “performance-based intervention” “formula” is still being used today. (You can learn more about it here and hire a consultant to help your business organization apply the approach if you are facing a crisis with an alcoholic in your company, especially with one you value like.

This “positive coercion” still exists in practice today, but it is no longer illegal to fire an active alcoholic. There is no requirement to offer help in an active state of drinking, but many private industries still do so because alcoholism is the most treatable thing on the planet if done correctly, and followed up vigorously. Why lose a valuable worker? It’s economic self-interest that drives a more sane approach after all!

This history above is important for people to understand as they consider reasonable suspicion training with for non-DOT or DOT supervisors because questions will arise in the context of training that touch on issues of cause, effect, intervention, treatment, enabling, myths, misconceptions, and anger and shock from supervisors who have alcoholism in their families and who have for decades decided upon their own “pet explanations” for what happened in their homes growing up.

These folks can unwittingly sabotage a drug free workplace program if they misconceptions interfere with the practical realities of a biological disease.

So, much changed in the 1990’s and it started with the American with Disabilities Act where henceforth alcoholics could not be discriminated against if they were in recovery (that’s good), but could in fact be fired if actively drinking or drugging (that can be bad.) The ADA made it more likely that alcoholics would cover up their drinking rather than seek help as they once did. What do you think about this?

The Legal Action Network for Alcoholic Recovery (LANSAR) fought the ADA provisions on these grounds above. But let’s move on.

The movement to help employees with alcoholism was well under way in the 1950’s in fact, and later when the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism with the “Hugh’s Act” in 1972 the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Rehabilitation Act of 1972 ramped up many alcoholism funding opportunities spurring the founding of treatment, rehab, journals, associations, intervention services, and much more.

There was a lot of controversy before and after these historical events about the value and ethics of drug testing workers, treatment, the cause of alcoholism, addiction, and how to treat it. These issues must be addressed in reasonable suspicion training for supervisors because clearing up confusion among supervisors is of paramount importance to prevent conflicts of beliefs about addiction and substance abuse.

Now, what about drug testing? One concern focused on the question of “privacy” and personal rights. Is it a violation of a person’s rights under the 4th amendment against illegal search and seizure to have their urine tested for illegal or illicit drug use? Is it a violation of one’s human rights to see if they have alcohol on their breath? The courts ruled “no” – employers do have legitimate business interest in having employees remain drug free. This final judgment undergirds reasonable suspicion training.

Admittedly, these questions almost derailed drug testing laws, and they were so controversial at the time, that even today, employees will protest getting drug tested when their name is called, or there is reasonable suspicion that one is under the influence of a psychoactive drug.

We will refer to the term psychoactive drug in reasonable suspicion training to reference alcohol, marijuana, or any substance that has the effect of changing ones mood or creating a high or “buzz.” Most of these drugs are also addictive. Marijuana is addictive, by the way, but like alcohol, not for everyone.

The annual reports in Colorado that assess the damage to the state from the horrors inflicted by the legalization of marijuana are plain to see every year, and this report which is mandated by state law is pure facts. For example, highway deaths for people under the influence have skyrocketed because of legal pot use.

There are many drugs that can create a high, and many you may never hear about. Some are sold illegally on the Internet. We’ll cover some of them below.

Any drug testing service in your community will be able to help you establish and drug testing program, including paper work and forms and policies. I recommend that you also consult your attorney have them do a read through of the program you are establishing so you feel protected in even some administrative mishap or controversy regarding drug testing seeks as its goal to interfere with you program to intervene with workplace substance abuse.

Employees who should be tested in your company are not just the ones acting drunk or appearing high on the job. Your drug testing program should also consider other positions important to the safe operation of your company and create a random testing provision, but asking your attorney first.

Although employees who drive trucks (DOT Regulated positions) must be in a random drug testing pool annually, you may want to inquire about others who manage money, or who are in other positions requiring great trust. Inquire with your attorney to see what is legal and appropriate for your organization based upon also what is reasonable and customary.

When you educate supervisors on your drug and alcohol policy and drug testing procedures, critical to the process will be reasonable suspicion training. I am going to give you the benefit of my experience having done this for 30 years, and having interviewed employees referred to me after testing – all types of employees from cocaine addicts, alcoholics, and heroin users—some of the nicest and sweetest manipulators you will ever meet.

The risk of being sued by employees when you have an effective drug and alcohol education and testing program is very low, especially if your legal department has given you the green light on your process and procedures. But the rewards are extremely high.

Unfortunately, or fortunately—you will never prove a negative when it comes to the success of your reasonable suspicion training for supervisors and drug testing program. That means, you will never prove that the disaster or accidental death of a worker that did NOT happen, was the result of your taking due care in helping to prevent it. There are ways of measuring impact using convincing before and after studies of cost factors however, but I will discuss those in another article.

Think twice before paying a live trainer enormous fees to deliver training. You can find good DOT reasonable suspicion training (purchase the course and keep it) by googling “WorkExcel DOT Editable PowerPoint Training for Reasonable Suspicion.”

So, one other practical suggestion: Acquire a training program with notes for a live trainer and a program (like PowerPoint) that can run like a show, which you purchase that allows anyone with knowledge or no knowledge, the ability to present the material. Also, get permission to make a couple sets of the program if need to pass on to other trainers if your organization is large, or break up the training (it is supposed to be two hours remember) so you can deliver say, 30 minutes at a time.

Remember, it is not necessary to have a professional experienced in drug and alcohol addiction treatment, counseling, or other type of patient interface.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Reasonable Suspicion Training Tip 1: Alcohol – Get this One Right
Let’s get boring for a minute. These dramatic drugs of abuse you may hear about in the news are not what contribute to death and mayhem in the workplace in great proportion. The real culprit is alcohol.

Needless to say, alcohol is the most common drug of abuse. It also has the most myths and misconceptions associated with it because it has been around for thousands of years. This length of time has helped ensure lots of confusion about alcohol use, abuse, alcoholism, who becomes alcoholic, and why, how best to recover, who recovers the right way, and what does recovery from alcoholism really mean. It’s exhausting!

Marijuana is the #2 of abuse in the workplace, and it has as almost as many myths associated with it thanks to the marijuana lobby and groups like NORML that have sought for decades to propagandize the harmlessness of pot and many benefits it can instill on society.

Are you personally curious about the harm marijuana causes? You need some facts. I would like to give you two links that will connect you with plenty facts about cannabis and its enormous harm to help you fight the propaganda. You may even fend well at a social gather where the topic arises.

I will bet money you have not seen one or both of these resources: 1) Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Colorado 7th annual report 2019:

2) 150 Negative Studies on Marijuana:

Join my mailing list to reports like these sent to your inbox. You can unsubscribe anytime.

If you are researching what content to include in your own training, try the video product or YouTube presentation called “Thinking about Your Drinking” – you can also find it at Go ahead and borrow some of the ideas you see there.

Reasonable Suspicion Training Tip 2: Drugs Specifics
There are many different psychoactive drugs of abuse that you can include in reasonable suspicion training, but it isn’t necessary to cover each one or its symptoms. I won’t go over every drug you can put in a reasonable suspicion training presentation, but I will highlight a few that are worth helping supervisors understand. You can then visit, find all the substances of abuse and isolate the information you want to share with your managers. It’s a great site to get specific drug information.

The Federal DOT requires the following substances to be addressed in DOT Training:

Alcohol – Beverage alcohol products and medicinal products that contain ethanol.

Depressants – Depressants are prescription medications used as anti-anxiety agents like Ativan, Valium, Xanax, and Clonopin. These are minor tranquilizers. Major tranquilizers, more common in the 1960s and 1970s—and more deadly when combined with alcohol—are also important to discuss in DOT reasonable suspicion training and education courses.

Amphetamines & Stimulants – These drugs include medications like Dexedrine, speed, Ritalin, Adderall for ADHD and illicit drugs like Cocaine and methamphetamine

Narcotics & Designer Drugs – these drug like heroin Dilaudid, and other opium based derivatives like Fentanyl, Heroin, and Morphine or synthetic drugs that mimic these Opium based substances. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now requests that all federal employees that fall under DOT provisions also received brief education about four Opioids. These include Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone, Oxycodone, and Oxymorphone. They are all pain relievers, but there does not have to be more said about them. Awareness is the key.

Hallucinogens & PCP – LSD, Ecstasy, Psilocybin mushrooms, Mescaline and Peyote, PCP, and various “club drugs” – many of these include date rate and predatorily used medications, are manufactured illicitly in Europe in imported to the USA.

Inhalants – inhalants are substances that contain volatile fumes, many of which can cause death and plenty of brain damage. Glue is the most recognized form of inhalant that can cause brain damage, or at least, it has gotten the most press. The DOT does not require or recommend that you introduce supervisors to the problems associated with inhaling volatile substances, but let me share a uncomfortable fact about drug addicts that may have you think twice and consider offering education about it.

All addicts, no matter what their preferred psychoactive substance used to get high, have the one drug they prefer. Perhaps it is alcohol. Maybe it is cocaine. What happens if choice #1 or #2 are not available? What if the urge to use a substance suddenly overcomes an employee?

Answer: The nearest psychoactive substance or mood-altering substance that could mimic a “high” would might be considered. Withdrawal is this powerful. So the “cure” to the craving might be an inhalant if it is handy enough.

This is why some alcoholics will drink mouthwash or perfume. Pride comes before the fall, or this case the need to get high will come first, and whatever the substance and stigma associated with using it, will come last.

Inhalants make the user feel drunk. This in turn will affect psychomotor abilities noticeable to the observing supervisor. No other reasonable suspicion training program for DOT supervisors (or non-DOT supervisors) contains this bit of information, but’s program does.

If you are someplace in the mid-West, you may have a concern about drugs like Methamphetamine. However, if you are in Miami, your concern may be more about date rape drugs like Rohypinol (“roofies”) . So, consider not just the federal government mandate concerning types of substances, but also the geographic area where you happen to be located.

It is really is not important to the supervisor or the organization for that matter, whether the employee is high on Spice K2 or Salvia. What’s important is recognizing behavior so bizarre that the threshold for reasonable suspicion is met so intervention and testing can occur, or when a test is useless because it won’t find a drug metabolite, a fitness for duty evaluation can be ordered and completed before the employee can return to work.

For example, there is no requirement for supervisors to learn about Peyote which is derived from Mescaline, a cactus plant found in the American southwest. It is similar to LSD. There is a DOT requirement to discuss hallucinogens as a drug category.  

LSD is the most popular of the hallucinogens, and it is also the most powerful. LSD, Psilocybin (magic mushrooms), DMT, Ketamine (Special K), and PCP (phencyclidine) are also hallucinogens, but PCP is probably the strangest one in this group, and some argue it is in a class all by itself.

An overdose of PCP literally untreatable. Essentially being controlled so you do not hurt or kill yourself—or someone else—is how use of the substance is managed.

With each drug category, discuss nature of the drug, signs and symptoms of use, hazards of use in the workplace, and effects on psychomotor disturbances.

Reasonable Suspicion Training Tip 3: Weird Drugs You Should Mention
There are drugs of abuse that once ingested to not produce metabolites, which are critical for drug tests to be effective in spotting a substance after its used. Metabolites are evidence of digestion or the body metabolizing the substance and producing a by-product from the chemical reaction with bodily enzymes like those found in the liver.

No drug tests exists for many types of hallucinogenic type drugs such as Spice K2, (but testing companies are reportedly working on one.) Other drugs dangerous enough to mention include Salvia, Bath Salts, and GHB. Also Ketamine, Peyote, and Rohypinol. You can see a preview of our reasonable suspicion training program and jump to the sections on these substance if you are curious.

Even though a drug test won’t detect use of some odd psychoactive drugs, managers should still have a general awareness for what they are. These drugs above are highly dangerous, in that the user must be surrounded by friends to prevent self-harm or accidentally killing themselves while high on the drug. To see one of these drugs and how people behave on it, visit YouTube and in the search bar (on the YouTube page) enter “Salvia” to watch people in distress who have used this substance. Now imagine an employee or warehouse worker on a fork lift high on Salvia.

Reasonable Suspicion Training Tip 4: Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of substance abuse are not all associated with psychomotor disturbances like stumbling and slurring of one’s speech. Frankly, I have never seen a drunk employee slurring their speech in the workplace in my 25 years of education, assessment, and intervention. Most alcoholics are perfectly capable of speaking clearly when moderately drunk because they have tolerance, which means their nervous system is not affected to the degree that such is noticeable.

Some signs and symptoms relate to mood swings. Others are associated with withdrawal and memory loss. Still documental signs and symptoms include attitude changes from a calm quiet mood to one of anger, depression, or suspicion.

Always use a checklist when constructing documentation. Use a toxicity checklist and a performance issues checklist. One measure substance abuse effects and the other measures job performance, conduct, and attendance effects. Both are helpful in constructing documentation. Search for a good signs and symptoms checklist for use in reasonable suspicion training.

Reasonable Suspicion Training Tip 5: Performance Issues of Drug Users
Signs and symptoms are the same as performance issues when it comes to drug and alcohol abusing or addictive employees in the workplace. Many trainers, including myself, believe that performance signs and symptoms are often more reliable for spotting drug or alcohol addicted employees than physical signs and symptoms. These workplace behavioral shortcomings and problems are then used as leverage to get an employee to a counselor, typically an employee assistance professional, who can then do an assessment and determine what comes next. This sort of referral can happen long before alcohol on the breath, stumbling or mood changes ever appear – in fact many years, if not decades before.

A case in point would be a 69 year old Heroin addict who is a janitor in a school symptom and who has worked in the same job for 28 years—but whose absenteeism has finally become more problematic, frequently, longer in days. A heroin addict can look like a million dollars in an interview with and the most skilled drug and alcohol counselor won’t notice the addiction problem.

Such a referral to a counselor could only be made based upon performance, but a complete assessment including a medical referral, and other assessment questions might very well produce an inpatient admission.

So you can see how all of this works. Signs and symptoms are not necessary that visible and behaviors, performance, and conduct might very well be.

Reasonable Suspicion Training Tip 6: Manipulation Ploys that Fake Out DOT Supervisors
We like to cover manipulation in reasonable suspicion training so supervisors are on their toes and expect these ploys perpetrated by addicts who are desperate not to get caught for drinking and drugging in the workplace. There are dozens of such manipulative scenarios, but we will cover a few. You can the top ten in the DOT Reasonable Suspicion Training program at or you can purchase this element of training separately from us at the following link.

“We’re Friends”

Many supervisors have been faced with the need to confront an employee because of reasonable suspicion of being under the influence and faced a big bump in the road: They are also friends with the employee.

Are you friends with your employees? Do you party together? Go fishing? Share secrets about your spouses or partners? Were you the “best man” at the wedding? Have you been in tough jams where you bailed each other out of close calls (whatever they might have been ala “The Hangover II”.)

If you are close friends with those you supervise, you will face a crisis in a situation where you must choose confrontation and referral for a drug test over ignoring the situation call for a reasonable suspicion intervention on the job. Looking the other way drug and alcohol test with the goal of looking the other way and avoiding a crisis—nay—the loss of the friendship with your employee.

Indeed, that is exactly what will happen if you do your job and refer your buddy for a drug and alcohol test. They are going to protest, hope to talk you out of it, and use the relationship as a weapon to convince you to ignore your duty to refer to testing. Friends don’t do that. Instead, a real friend would suck it up.

Think of the risks involved in ignoring your job to confront and refer your employee both for yourself, the company, safety, the general public, coworkers, etc. As you can readily see, is a problem that you should decide right now how you will handle if you are ever faced with it.

The correct management of this potential problem is to tell all employees you supervise that you will not play favorites when it comes to reasonable suspicion testing, and also say, that it is obvious why not—your job and many risks and consequences would be on the line.

The smart thing to do is not to be friends with those you supervise—do not join clubs, play cards, drink alcohol, party, loan money, or counsel them about their personal problems. If you do, the type of relationship will grow to the point where it will take priority over your job and supervisory functions.

 You must not depend on your employees to get your personal relationship needs met from them. This is called a dual relationship.

Does it sound impossible to forego all of the benefits of a personal relationship with your employees for the sake of being able to manage a task like confronting one of them for reasonable suspicion of substance abuse?

Tough question isn’t it. The goal of these several paragraphs is to get you thinking and finding the right answer for yourself. If all supervisors would do just this much, many lives and jobs could be saved nationwide.

“You’ll ruin my career”

Someday, you can expect that an employee you confront for signs and symptoms of alcohol or drug use on the job saying, “You will ruin my career” if you send me for a test. Hopefully before this happens, they will have a solid understanding of your responsibility because this is a tough place to be as you can imagine—having to listen to the fear coming from your employee or following through with your responsibility to refer for a test.

Let’s face it. Although most company alcohol and drug policies protect workers from reprisals, people are the ones who make decisions, and these deciders could always discriminate against a worker when it comes to hiring and promotion, just as they might based upon their internal politics.

“It’s Medicine or Mouthwash”

Certainly one of the most common retorts from employees who confronted with alcohol on the breath, and who in fact, have been drinking on the job is the excuse that what the supervisor is smelling is only mouthwash. The other excuse commonly used is that the supervisor is really smelling medicine. With either of these excuses, the supervisor might envision a substance like Listerine as the order to which the employee is making reference. After all, these consumer products do small pretty “mediciny.”
But here is the catch. So what? If what you smell on the breath of the worker is alcohol-like in its make up, then you have a good cause to recommend a test. No reason to feel intimidated. Make this point in your reasonable suspicion training class.

We mentioned before that alcoholics may turn to other substances that contain alcohol, and drink them in order to ward off withdrawal. Mouthwash (some of which is 25% alcohol or 50 proof) happens to be one of them. The other is medicine of some type. And of course, we have our perfume drinkers. Sound crazy and not believable? I would suggest you take in a few Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings where you will hear these authentic presentations on what alcoholics now in recovery, once did while in the hey-day of their drinking careers, as they often refer to them.

Reasonable Suspicion Training Tip 7: Incorporate the EAP

If your organization has an employee assistance program or EAP, be sure to incorporate its purpose and how to use it in your reasonable suspicion training program education. EAPs are confidential. Very confidential. In fact their confidentiality provisions, although not absolute, are stricter than those guarding medical records or any other confidentiality laws in the nation. Why? This was purposeful when the 1972 Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Rehabilitation Act was passed by President Nixon. The idea was to make confidentiality laws so strict that people would be encouraged to seek treatment voluntarily more readily.

Always encourage people to get help via the EAP. Also, remember this. At some point, supervisors may not have another to conduct a reasonable suspicion test, but they may have enough information to say something appropriate to the employee with, say, a hangover – like, “hey, man, you should call the EAP. It looks like you have a too many of these hangovers.”

Always remember, that confrontation of addicts in cumulative. Over time, the likelihood of their seeking and/or accepting treatment is directly proportional to the frequency of confrontations, close calls, interventions, and other bad experiences related to their drinking.

Reasonable Suspicion Training

Tip 8: DVD, PowerPoint, Video, or Web Course

Training supervisors in drug and alcohol awareness is often done on-site using PowerPoint programs. In my experience, this is the most common method, but if you have a group of supervisors, how many don’t show out of every 10?

Do you have a method of reach each one? How long are you willing to pursue these supervisors to come back to the training room and watch a PowerPoint on a laptop? Needless to say this is not very practical, and you risk never reaching every supervisor unless you have a very aggressive HR manager or safety director in charge of training who really knows how to pin managers down.

A better way to go is to have a Web course. And here is the beautiful thing! You can own a Web course that will play like a movie hands off, and use this in a training room --- or online where a certificate of completion is issued from the course with the supervisors name imprinted on it with date and time stamp as well. So, this way you have a couple different ways to train that allow you to quickly reach every supervisor, especially the ones that got away.

Don’t discount resistance. If you have 10-12 supervisors, chances are that one of them is alcoholic. These individuals will be inclined more than the others to skip out of training.

Imagine this – sending an email to every supervisor with a link to the Web course. Then a week later expecting everyone one to turn in a copy of their certificate. Any supervisors who have not done so are email the link again with a more assertive message on management’s part to complete training.

This is how you reduce risk in an organization!

Reasonable Suspicion Training Tip 9: Don’t Bore Your DOT Supervisors

If you train DOT supervisors, break up the training into different types of learning experiences. For example, some audio visual, some handouts to read, some educational test questions that expand on important concepts.

A huge myth among employers who much conform to DOT training is that the entire two hours of training must be comprised of audio/visual material. Not true. I have phone the DOT in Washington, DC myself. Even group discussion of pertinent content can quality has part of the 2-hour drug and alcohol training. Personally, I like to give supervisors lots of questions, have them answer the question, and then give them a paragraph of education about why the answer to certain question is the way it is.

So, the message with this tip is – don’t put your supervisors to sleep because you will increase risk to everyone.

Reasonable Suspicion Training Program Purchase or Preview Here

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

How to Understand, Identify and Confront a “Functional” Alcoholic on the Job?

What is the Supervisor’s Role?

As a supervisor, you have an important role in dealing with alcohol problems in the workplace. These problems appear as a host of behavior, conduct, attitude, quality of work, and attendance or availability issues that wreak havoc on productivity. Training in substance abuse (whether DOT or Non-DOT in scope, can help you act sooner when you witness these sorts of problems.)

In your daily responsibilities monitoring
 your employees’ work and on-the-job behaviors and their conduct, your basic supervisory responsibilities may include and are not limited to:

  • assigning, monitoring, reviewing, and appraising work and performance
  • setting work schedules, approving or disapproving leave requests
  • taking necessary corrective and disciplinary actions when performance or conduct problems arise
  • referring employees to your agency’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP)and other resources
  • hiring, promoting and terminating employees

As a DOT supervisor concerned with reasonable suspicion of substance abuse, you will likely have to deal with employees with problems related to substance abuse which may impact safety, performance, conduct, and sickness/leave problems.

In some cases, you may not know for sure, but do suspect that there is an alcohol problem, but haven’t yet seen a direct impact of the alcohol use on job performance.

As a DOT supervisor, all of these roles you play create can be challenging, especially when it involves having an employee who is “functional” in their work performance, but has unpredictable alcohol related problems. This employee is particularly difficult to confront because  their work performance is often not detectably impacted.

Eventually however, the employee may be intoxicated while at work or come to work still a bit “buzzed’ and participate in risky decision making or dangerous behaviors. They could be in an accident or be arrested for drunk driving. Your role is not to diagnose the alcohol problem but to engage in a proactive role in dealing with the performance or behavior problem, hold the employee accountable, document and refer the employee to the EAP, and take any appropriate disciplinary action.

Your proactive role in dealing with alcoholism in the workplace is crucial. The most effective way to get an alcoholic to deal with the problem is to make the alcoholic aware that his or her job is on the line. You send a message that they have to face their substance abuse, access EAP programs and supports, and improve performance, or they will face the serious the possibility of losing his or her job.

As a DOT supervisor it isn’t your role to diagnose but it is your responsibility to safeguard the health and safety of your employee and the organization.

Reasonable Suspicion Training, required under federal law, trains DOT supervisors to identify the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol use and abuse. The Reasonable Suspicion training highlights the need to take action as an integral part of the process for change

The terms “problem drinker” and “functional alcoholic” are labels that support denial. Unfortunately, they help the alcoholic continue drinking unaffected by the anxiety of self-awareness. These two labels although commonly used even by health care workers, are not medical terms.

The term “functional” and “problem drinker” only negatively help the alcoholic, their family, and/or friends and co-workers/supervisors to make sense of or compare the person, in the context of familiar ideas or terms, to an idea of an illness that feels less threatening or dangerous.

For many, the role of enabling an employee with alcohol abusive behaviors typically feels like the "right" thing to do in response to the problem behavior. Actually, unfortunately, it helps the alcoholic or addict escape responsibility for their actions.

The ability of the addict to deny, rationalize, externalize, and minimize problems while having others accept their excuses and explanations, ends up helping the addict get sicker and exposes the company to a myriad of risks and expenses in monetary and human cost.

Even though you must not try to diagnose the problem, you should be aware of both the obvious and sometimes more subtle signs that may indicate a problem with alcohol or drug abuse which should trigger a referral to the EAP. Recognizing, documenting and identifying these are a strong first step in the process.


Employees will show irregularities or instances in these areas:


Changes in Leave, Tardiness and Attendance, or general behavioral changes


·         Increased or new unexplained/unauthorized absences from work

·         Frequent tardiness, increased use of sick leave

·         Patterns of absence, like the day after payday or frequent Monday or Friday absences

·         Frequent unplanned absences due to "emergencies" (e.g., household repairs, car trouble, family emergencies, legal problems)

·         The employee may also leave their duty station without explanation or permission for significant periods of time, frequent bathroom breaks, odd changes in eating habits, glassy eyes, smells of alcohol or drugs


Performance Problems:

  • Careless, sloppy work or incomplete assignments or reports
  • Production quotas not met, late with delivery of shipments, late arrival of shipments or truckloads
  • Many or repetitive excuses that may seem plausible
  • Poor decision making, risky behaviors, blaming others

Often in jobs requiring long-term projects or detailed reports that take time, an employee may be able to hide a performance problem for quite some time. In positions where driving or use of machinery is involved, the immediate exposure to risk and injury is increased and enormous.


Relationships at Work with coworkers and management:

  • Relationships with coworkers will likely become strained and involve conflict or volatility  
  • Often the employee may be belligerent, argumentative, or short-tempered, especially in the mornings or after weekends or holidays. Often, they may be in a mood, or unpredictable and then feel guilty later
  • The employee may become a "loner", or avoid people and work events

Behavior and Appearance at Work:

The general appearance of being inebriated or under the influence of alcohol may include but not be limited to:

  • The smell of alcohol or any drug substance on the breath, clothing or even in a vehicle
  • An unsteady gait, or frequent injuries attributed to a fall or just being “clumsy”
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Moodiness, increased behavior changes or volatility
  • Excessive use of mouthwash, breath mints, gum
  • May avoid supervisory contact, especially after lunch or first thing in the morning
  • Changes in appetite or eating habits- not eating, binge eating, throwing up, excessive thirst
  • Tremors or sudden seizures, frequent headaches
  • Napping or sleeping while at work

Not any single one of these signs means that an employee is an alcoholic. However, when these warning signs are coupled with performance, behavior or decision-making problems, it’s important to carefully document and make a referral to the EAP for an assessment so that the employee can get appropriate access to help.


Signs of a Functional Alcoholic


Since there is no such thing as a ‘functional alcoholic”, the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and substance abuse are the same as for a functional alcoholic. Many people hold the misconception of the classic picture of an alcoholic as someone who always drinks too much and whose life is falling apart because of it, but that's not always the reality. In reality, often times an employee may not drink for periods of time and/or then binge drink, then the next day they may still be under the influence when they arrive to work. They may drink every day consuming alcohol at varying times or repetitive times i.e. “another nightcap” or an “eye opener”.

The misconceptions of what an alcoholic is, is often tied to the idea of what people call “functional” or “high-functioning" alcoholics. After all, they are getting their job done…but they are actually flying under the radar. You can still be an alcoholic, even though you have a great “outside life,” with a job that pays, a home, a family, friendships, and social bonds.

It’s all still problem drinking, even if you think it's “mild” or “functional”. Remember that the pattern of behaviors you observe will vary dependent on whether they are using alcohol or illegal drugs.

What Are the Signs?

For women having more than three drinks a day or seven drinks a week, is considered heavy drinking and for men, it's four or more per day or 14 drinks in a week. If you drink more than the daily or weekly limit, you’re at risk for a range of problems and alcoholism.

There are some other red flags you should watch for:

  • They aren’t keeping up with major responsibilities at work
  • They are losing friendships or having relationship problems
  • They have legal problems related to drinking, such as a DUI arrest
  • They seem to need alcohol to relax or feel confident
  • They will drink in the morning or alone or on the job
  • Get drunk when you don’t intend to
  • Forget what you did while drinking
  • They will lie about drinking, hide alcohol, or get angry or defensive when confronted about drinking

Confronting an employee suspected of substance abuse

There are 5 basic skills that you should be familiar and comfortable with to become a proactive participant in a DOT substance awareness and abuse policy intervention.

Skill 1...Sharpen your observational powers so you can intervene earlier

Skill 2...Take a proactive role- don’t wait

Skill 3...Document your suspicion

Skill 4...Act on the Drug Testing Policy in place with your workplace

And skill 5...Communicate your suspicion to the employee and referring to testing

Facing the Challenge

Fighting substance abuse in your workplace is one of the hardest and most complex challenges you’ll face as a manager. Expect the following to occur:

  • It may likely be difficult to initiate a discussion of this delicate and personal topic to begin intervention
  • Employee confrontations rarely proceed smoothly and happily- make sure you have another manger or EAP person present when you confront. Do not diagnosis  
  • Employees may be resistant at first. You’ll need to stay calm and consistent. Consider the use of a script to guide and focus you and your team when you meet
  • Never perform an assessment yourself, always refer  

Why You Should Get Involved

Remember, employees and your organization will benefit from professional counseling and treatment. It may feel awkward, uncomfortable or even intense but by initiating a proactive role, but everyone will benefit in the long run.

By stopping an impaired employee from driving a vehicle or operating machinery, you may prevent accidents that cause permanent harm to the worker and others, damage business image, impact insurance and increase exposure to future risk.

If you know what to look for - and what to do, you can proceed with confidence and provide potentially life-saving support, a win-win for everyone.  

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Big Problems When DOT Supervisors Drink with Their Employees

by Toni Burns, contributing author

DOT reasonable suspicion training
for DOT regulated supervisors is a required and positive education process to  support and guide supervisors through the identification and referral of employees who may exhibit signs and symptoms of being under the influence.

There are slippery issues however that remain unaddressed by the DOT regulations when it comes to relationships with subordinates. In fact, the DOT can't touch these issues.

Let's discuss one: Dual and inappropriate relationships.

Required under federal law, DOT Reasonable Suspicion Training mandates that certain employers involved in transportation-related fields train their supervisors in identifying the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol use and abuse.

When a company implements a Reasonable Suspicion Program it is important that the supervisor feels confident and comfortable in their role. This type of training only increases the safety of a company’s work-site, of their workforce, and the public.

But what about the DOT supervisor who has been trained in Reasonable Suspicion training who also drinks with an employee during or after work hours?

A DOT supervisor is a professional. Inherent in their supervisory role is a professional relationship with the DOT employees he or she supervises. Sounds simple enough and straight forward.
Supervisors are also humans, prone toward social connections, as are employees. In fact, most professional supervisory – employee relationships benefit from strong supervisor-employee connections. When a supervisor takes a personal interest in their employees’ lives outside the workplace, employees typically demonstrate positive behaviors.

Positive workplace behaviors associated with healthy supervisor-employee connections include:

· Strengthened workplace connections
· Higher commitment/ lower turn-over and increased loyalty
· Increased productivity and efficiency
· Higher motivation
· Improved self- regulation and self-awareness
· Decreased tardiness and sick days

However, many employees who struggle with substance abuse of alcohol and/or drugs, will abuse on the job and/off the job as well. The issues are compounded when a DOT supervisor socializes with those employees during or after work where drinking or drugging is involved.

Supervisors often are the first line of defense against substance abuse in the workplace. It can be difficult to approach an employee under reasonable suspicion as addiction can cause people to behave in unpredictable ways.

Some employees may make excuses or try to manipulate supervisors to get out of the situation, or even implicate the supervisor who partied with them. In some rare instances, employees may become violent when their addiction is brought to light when confronted with substance abuse on the job.

 When the supervisor is a drinking buddy as well, you can see where a blurring of lines complicates things. The professional line between supervisor and employee is now a narrow thin line. What would once be clear protocols for documentation, confrontation and reporting are now personal and can be awkward.

When a DOT supervisor steps from supervisor role into a social drinking role and where that employee is suspected of behaviors and activities of abuse, the supervisor is enabling. He or she inadvertently undermines the DOT Reasonable Suspicion Program. When supervisors or upper management participates in drinking, on the job or off, with their employees, they reinforce an acceptance of a workplace culture tolerant of substance abuse.

What are the costs of blurred professional roles between DOT supervisors and employees?

When an employee with a substance abuse problem is not identified, reported and provided appropriate supports, the bottom-line impact for the DOT and others is far reaching:

· The DOT cost of diverting company resources
· Cost associated with medical and social problems of the employee and family members
· Liability of impaired job performance threatens the safety and health of the employee(s) 
      and the public – increased risk and exposure
· Increased risk of accidents both on and off the job
· Poor job performance
· Decreased efficiency, problem solving, and decision making leading to more complex issues
· Theft
· Increased sick time and three times as many tardy days; lower productivity; sleeping on the job
· Five times more likely to file a worker's compensation claim
· Increased likelihood of relationship problems with co-workers, friends and family
· Employee financial problems
· Mood and behavior instability
· Potential for violence
· Public image damage
· Increased risk of lawsuits

"How do I connect with my employees without socializing where alcohol or other substances involved?"
Twenty three percent of upper management and eleven percent of first line supervisors reported having a drink during the work day, compared to eight percent of hourly employees. Supervisors and upper management should inspire healthy work and personal behaviors by setting standards and create a work culture that does not endorse substance use or abuse. DOT supervisors have a day to day responsibility to model healthy behaviors and to monitor employees of the same.

When DOT supervisors set healthy boundaries that establish clear professional relationships that also foster work place personal rapport and trust, professional boundaries are established and maintained. Without healthy professional boundaries, confronting a DOT employee who is suspected of abusing substances can become complicated, personal and difficult to address.

In short, the supervisor may become a part of the problem itself.

It’s fine to occasionally socialize with the team so they’ll see you as a human being and to meet their families. Socializing for drinks after work or during work though is a big No, filled with potential pitfalls and conflict of interest. Employees still need to respect you as a leader who makes tough decisions when you need to. There’s a risk of being too cozy with an employee whom you may need to report, review, or even terminate. You may miss out on some of the fun, but it is going to be a lot easier to be a manager when the time comes if the lines aren’t blurred and a level of professionalism is maintained.

DOT supervisors must first:

· Ensure that everyone in the workplace understands that a drug-free workplace is more likely to be a safe, healthy, and productive workplace
· Inform everyone in the workplace about the specifics of the policy and about available strategies and programs that support a drug-free workplace, health, and wellness
· Motivate their employees to support the policy
· Develop a process to continually review and update the drug-free workplace policy and the strategies and programs that support a drug-free workplace, health, and wellness
· Make available strategies and programs that support a drug-free workplace, health, and wellness
· Create a shared sense of responsibility for the success of a drug-free workplace policy and the strategies and programs that support a drug-free workplace, health, and wellness
Supervisors should consider workplace programs and activities that create a culture to include leadership style, management practices, social supports, employee autonomy and control, and work organization that encourages healthy work and life style behaviors.

Supervisors must understand and follow the DOT Reasonable Suspicion Policy:
· Understand Company Policy Ensure the company has a written drug and alcohol testing policy that includes guidance for cases of reasonable suspicion. This protects the employee and the employer. It also is imperative that all supervisors and managers receive reasonable suspicion training
· Collect Documentation If an employee is suspected of substance abuse on the job, document evidence to support the claim before approaching under reasonable suspicion. Documentation includes complaints or concerns from coworkers and patterns of behavior such as excessive tardiness or extreme changes in behavior or mood

· Observe Reported Behaviors At least two managers/supervisors should observe and confirm any reported behaviors and document them in detail. Reference any unusual behaviors or warning signs of substance abuse. If an employee is observed behaving in such a way that would jeopardize their safety or that of their coworkers, they should immediately be removed from their duties

Creating and maintaining clear professional boundaries is best practice for supervisors. If and when the time comes to confront an employee for suspected substance abuse, the supervisor will be less likely to enable the employee suspected of addiction by acting more as a “friend” than as a

cover to drug and alcohol training program
supervisor. As people we often feel we are helping someone when we offer “support” or advise and naively think we are resolving the issue. Keeping the relationship professional reduces complications and protects the well-being of everyone involved.

Get your supervisors trained in alcohol and drug awareness, especially those who are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation because they are in safety-sensitive positions.

by Toni Burns, contributing author