Use the following common questions and answers as a basis for review.
Note: These questions cover both reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing and testing in general.
Q. What is the objective of the FTA’s workplace anti-drug and alcohol program as a whole? Isn’t the Federal government infringing on the private lives of its employees?
A. The intent of this drug and alcohol testing program is not to control private lives of employees. The primary concern is to protect the safety of employees, passengers, and the public.
Q. If drug/alcohol dependency is considered a disease, why is the FTA taking a disciplinary approach?
A. Illegal drug use and alcohol misuse is not an excuse for unacceptable performance. The focus is on safety.
Q. Why are certain employees being singled out in the anti-drug/alcohol program?
A. Employees who perform safety–sensitive functions are responsible not only for their own personal well being, but that of their colleagues and the public. Hence, this program focuses on those employees.
Q. In general, when would a supervisor require an employee to undergo a reasonable suspicion drug test?
A. Examples include, but are not limited to overt signs or symptoms of drug use or alcohol misuse or other behavior patterns that are consistent with prohibited drug use, or alcohol misuse.
Q. What are the specific prohibitions related to an employee’s use of illegal drugs and alcohol?
A. Under FTA regulations, an employee must not:
Alcohol: Consume alcohol while performing a safety-sensitive function, four (4) hours prior to performing the function and up to eight (8) hours following an accident or until the employee undergoes a post–accident test, whichever occurs first.
Drugs: Ingest illegal drugs at any time.
Q. Can an employee be terminated based on a positive test result?
A. Perhaps, but this is neither mandated nor regulated by the FTA. Individual employers’ policies determine if an employee can be terminated after receiving a positive test result.
Q. What safeguards will be provided to prevent supervisors from using reasonable suspicion testing as an excuse for witch hunts or vendettas?
A. The regulations requires that a reasonable suspicion referral must be based on trained supervisor’s specific, contemporaneous, articulable observation concerning the appearance, behavior, speech, or body odor of the person for whom the referral is made. Supervisors must receive at least 120 minutes (60 on alcohol; 60 on drugs) of training and should be evaluated on their performance of that particular supervisory function.
Q. Is it necessary (and if so, how) for a supervisor to have a second supervisor confirm his/her assessment of possible drug/alcohol abuse by an employee (as a self–check), before confidentially verbalizing their request to the employee
A. Only one trained supervisor’s opinion is necessary to require a reasonable suspicion test. However, the supervisor’s decision must pass the “reasonable and prudent” rule of thumb. The “reasonable and prudent” rule of thumb is a cognitive judgment call that requires the supervisor to 1) assess the facts, signs and circumstances for which the reasonable suspicion is being determined, AND 2) cognitively deduce that a similarly trained and experienced supervisor (having observed the same facts, signs and circumstances) could have reached the same conclusion.
Q. Will employees know which supervisors have made past referrals and tend to being in their presence?
A. Supervisors directly responsible for a decision to conduct a reasonable suspicion test must respect an individual’s dignity, and as a matter of policy are required to keep that information confidential.
Q. If an employee is showing sings and symptoms of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, can the test be done quickly?
A. Yes. Every effort will be made to conduct the test immediately.
Q. What if an employee refuses to take a drug and/or alcohol test?
A. Denial should be an expected reaction; however refusal to a test is tantamount to a positive test result.
Q. Dose a supervisor have to inform the employee of their rights, and the testing process?
A. Employees should already be aware of their rights. Under the FTA drug rule, employees must receive 60 minutes of training on the drug testing program, including health and safety issues, employees’ roles and responsibilities, and the testing process. The FTA alcohol rule requires that employees be provided with additional materials addressing those same issues as they relate to alcohol. Employers must also distribute copies of their substance abuse policies to their safety-sensitive employees.
Q. Are supervisors required to collect test samples, or perform any of the tests?
A. No. The regulations prohibit a supervisor who is the direct supervisor of the employee from conducting the breath test and/or collecting urine specimens.
Q. What if the employee was taking prescription drugs and had to take a drug test for reasonable suspicion?
A. Employees are given the opportunity to list prescription medications they are taking on their copy of the Custody and Control Form. This information is not provided on any other copy of the form.
Q. Can supervisors make reasonable suspicion referrals of other supervisors?
A. Yes. Covered employees include supervisors if they perform a safety-sensitive function.
Q. Can a supervisor be held liable for defamation of an individual’s character especially if the test results are negative?
A. No. If a trained supervisor conducts a reasonable suspicion referral in a proper and confidential manner that supervisor has performed his or her job appropriately. Regardless of the test result, if the supervisor has observed the “reasonable and prudent” rule in the conduct of the reasonable suspicion referral, the supervisor has met his or her responsibility.
Q. Can a supervisor’s vulnerability to litigation be lessened by collecting as much documented supporting evidence as possible before making a determination?
A. Employees believed to be under the influence of a prohibited substance or misusing alcohol may be an immediate hazard to themselves and others. The FTA rules do not require that documentation be generated to support a reasonable suspicion referral; however, the employer may require, or the supervisor may wish to create such documentation as a good business practice. If such documentation is created, it must be retained for one year.
Q. What resources are available to the supervisor to obtain additional information on making a reasonable suspicion determination?
A. Supervisors can obtain additional guidance from their agencies’ designated:
Substance Abuse Program Managers
Medical Review Officer (MRO)
Substance Abuse Professional (SAP)
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)