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.