Monday, December 17, 2018

#3 of 43: DOT Reasonable Suspicion Training - Alcohol on the Breath

Reasonable suspicion training includes the examination of signs and symptoms that are
obviously well known and no-brainers. One of them is alcohol on the breath.

Don't be fooled, however. Alcohol on the breath can be on of the more difficult signs and symptoms to confront. It sounds cut and dry and simple enough, but this symptom has some tricky angles to it.

Did you know that in most workplaces in the the UK, alcohol on the breath cannot be used as a justification for a alcohol testing? Hint: The rate of alcoholism among white males in the UK is enormous compared to their counterparts in the USA.

Can you see why reasonable suspicion testing laws in the United Kingdom might prohibit requiring a urine screen solely become of alcohol on the breath? (Sorry, not sure about airline pilots and train engineers in the UK--but I hope they made an exception to this law  for some occupations. Now let's dive into alcohol on the breath a little bit more.

Companies like to brag about their "zero-tolerance" policies concerning using drugs and alcohol on the job. But regarding alcohol, what does "use of alcohol" on the job mean -- drinking it openly or having it in your  body spiking your BAC? It is important to get clarity on this subject because I have seen enormous confusion that results from reasonable suspicion training when people began asking questions like this in the Q and A session at the end of a DOT PowerPoint Training presentation.

In one training session I did, a discussion arose about whether it was against county government policy to use alcohol at lunch? The policy had no reference to this, but they can't control private alcohol consumption at lunch off the job site. But here's the problem. People come back from lunch after drinking. Some show symptoms -- those with low tolerance and some show none -- those with high tolerance. The high tolerance individuals are more likely drunk.

But then what does drunk mean? Alcohol on the breath? Staggering? Slurring one's words? The drug and alcohol policy may be a zero tolerance policy, but it does not add up.

Many alcoholics in the middle and later stages can be drunk at work and appear normal. They may have a breath smell of alcohol, however. How does the policy of the company deal with this issue? This takes some real thought.

The county government policy stated that employees cannot consume alcohol at work, but its policy fell apart when employees when to lunch and drank. Employees who returned to work with alcohol on their breath were suddenly in violation of the policy, but they had not drank alcohol at work.

One hospital I worked for wrote in their drug and alcohol policy that employees could not consume alcohol during the workday at all nor at any time. Guess who decided to direct the hospital to not include them in the policy -- all the doctors. They wanted to drink during the work day. And the hospital signed off on it.

We have an important section in's Reasonable Suspicion Training program for DOT. It includes a thorough discussion about alcohol, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism.
You can preview the full program here.

So, what about employees who come to work at 11 p.m. to work until 7 or 8 a.m. Does alcohol on the breath mean the same thing for these workers as those who arrive at 7 a.m. to work until 3 p.m. or 4 p.m.? Are you beginning to see how complicated this can get?

Obviously there is plenty to discuss with regard to this sign or symptom. And I will continue this discussion in a second part momentarily.

The Federal Transportation Administration says that signs and symptoms must be articulable and contemporaneous -- use this language in your policy. However, be sure educate thoroughly on signs and symptoms.

But It's Medicine

 You're going to hear this excuse someday: "But it's medicine." Easy answer: "And?"

If it smells like alcohol, even it is medicine, the reasonable suspicion test is warranted. This is articulatable and contemporaneous enough to document. What the employee says you are actually smelling is not part of your decision-making process regarding a decision to test.

Purchase DOT Reasonable Suspicion Training for one person or your entire company at this link - prices vary based on format.

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