Reasonable Suspicion and Supervisory Training

… The Confrontational Process

Reasonable Suspicion and Supervisory Training

An employee’s performance is not up to par, some other things do not seem right; what does a supervisor do?

Based on a situation that is not an immediate safety concern, a Supervisor should confront a problem or troubled employee about their workplace performance that may or may not be related to substance abuse.  There are some dos and don’ts that a well-trained supervisor should be aware of and follow to prevent a situation form being blown out of proportion and that can oftentimes have a disastrous consequences.  A key point to remember that the supervisor is confronting an employee about issues that have the potential to cause an explosive scenario.  A supervisor needs to remember that the individual being confronted has workplace performance issues due to unknown or identified reasons.  The issue of substance abuse or the misuse of alcohol can get very personal with some individuals and as a consequence can become a highly charged emotional issue.

When there is an immediate safety concern, the confrontation should lead to an immedate reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol test. 

Meeting with the Employee

The supervisor should take time prior to the meeting to carefully review the employee’s job performance records. A suspected drug abuser should, like any other employee, be judged solely on job performance.

For this reason, job attendance and performance record-keeping of all employees is of prime importance.

Any discussion about the job should be held in private and without interruption, if possible.

The first step is to let the employee know that his/her job performance is below standard and you must clearly outline what is expected of the employee and where his/her performance is lacking. Many drug abusers are not even aware that their work is deficient. Most do not think of themselves as drug abusers; in fact, many times they feel that they do a superior job when using a drug and that the use of a drug helps them to ease the monotony, feel calmer, or work faster.

The second step is to get the employee to agree that there is a problem on the basis of job performance records. The records may reveal excessive absences, low productivity, and violation of regulations, accidents and/or conflict with co-workers.

The third step is to recommend that the employee go see the EAP Counselor (if the Company has an EAP or a reputable counselor if the Company does not have an EAP).  For a DOT regulated company, a call and advice from the company sponsored SAP may be in order.  Confidentiality should always be stressed to the employee…

            A highly important thing to remember is: at no time during the interview should you try to diagnose an employee’s problem; that is not your function.

            Accusation or moralizing to the employee about their problems should also be left out of the conversation.

Finally, the fourth step is to follow up to make sure the employee has sought help and that their job performance is acceptable. However, you must continue to evaluate the employee’s job performance only and not monitor the recovery.

            Employees who have been successfully rehabilitated often turn out to be superior employees who support management.

Do’s and Don’ts When Meeting With an Employee Who May be Using Drugs


  • Do hold the conversation in private.
  • Do limit the discussion to job performance.
  • Do keep records. Written records are the single most effective tools against drug abuse.
  • Do discuss the consequences to the employee if they do not seek help to solve the job performance problems.
  • Do keep the discussion confidential. 


  • Don’t try to be doctor or diagnostician.
  • Don’t moralize or preach to the employee about the problem.
  • Don’t let the employee evade the subject; stick to the facts about job performance and refer to your written records.
  • Don’t lose your temper; keep the meeting on a professional level.
  • Don’t ignore poor job performance by this employee in the future. 

Remember: A good and well trained supervisor will follow up and make sure the employee has obtained help.

All of the above are key points to remember when confronting a troubled employee even if the issue is not related to substance abuse.

Note: This will be a multi part article to ensure that all the pertinent topic areas are covered and discussed.

Reasonable Suspicion and Supervisory Training
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