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
· 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 wellnessSupervisors must understand and follow the DOT Reasonable Suspicion Policy:
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.
· 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
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