Post-accident and Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

By Mark A. Lies II and Kerry M. Mohan

Editor’s note – Mark A. Lies II is a labor and employment law attorney and partner with the Chicago, IL, law firm of Seyfarth Shaw, LLP. He specializes in occupational safety and health and related employment law and civil litigation. Kerry M. Mohan is an associate with Seyfarth Shaw focusing on occupational safety and health, traditional labor matters, and related employment law and civil litigation. Legal topics provide general information, not specific legal advice. Individual circumstances may limit or modify this information.

As discussed in this column, “Weed and Weapons: Workplace Challenges,” in the December 2013 issue of Render, recent state legislative enactments have expanded the scope of marijuana use for medicinal and recreational purposes. As a result, we can expect the use of marijuana will greatly increase across the United States. These legislative developments have also led to increased uncertainty over whether and when an employer can test an employee for suspected marijuana use. Further, despite the fact that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, employers are subject to the whims of each individual state’s marijuana laws.

This article addresses an employer’s ability to conduct two forms of drug testing: (1) post-accident testing; and (2) reasonable suspicion testing. These two forms of testing are being addressed because while employers are generally permitted to conduct pre-employment drug screening for illegal drugs, an employer’s uncertainty generally arises when a current employee has been involved in an accident or exhibits behavior that indicates impairment.

Prior to Testing
It is advisable that employers implement some form of drug testing policy for pre-employment, post-accident, and reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing. However, if an employer wishes to conduct drug and alcohol testing, the employer should first develop and distribute copies of its drug testing policy to all employees in advance, allowing them time to adjust their behavior, including use of marijuana, prior to an effective date to avoid a positive test. If the workplace is subject to a labor agreement, the employer will most likely have to bargain with the union over terms and conditions of the policy. To withstand potential challenges, the testing policy should:

• identify the types of testing (i.e., pre-employment, for cause, and post-accident);

• identify that the testing is limited to the presence of specific drugs;

• use a scientifically valid testing method that involves private specimen collection and chain of custody procedures to ensure proper identification, labeling, recordkeeping, handling and testing of specimens;

• notify employees of the consequences that follow a positive drug test;

• reinforce the employer’s commitment to maintaining the testing’s confidentiality; and

• consider providing sources for help for drug abuse or alcohol misuse problems.

State Specific Statutory Restrictions
As briefly touched upon earlier, many states (and municipalities) have drug testing restrictions specific for that jurisdiction. Thus, employers must analyze the laws of their local states and municipalities to determine whether they impose written policy and notice requirements, regulate the specimen collection and testing process, impose rehabilitation requirements, restrict employers’ disciplinary actions against employees who test positive, and mandate appeal procedures.

Certainly, no employer would want an employee to cause an accident because he/she is under the influence, but employers may be prohibited from taking corrective or disciplinary action because its policy did not comply with local requirements.

Post-accident Testing
Post-accident testing occurs, as you can imagine, after an accident has happened in the workplace. Post-accident testing is often encouraged by an employer’s workers’ compensation carrier, which either specifically mandates the testing or offers reduced premiums for conducting such testing. The employer may also be able to successfully defend against an Occupational Safety and Health Administration citation issued as a result of the accident based on the employee’s impairment that was unknown to the employer.

Though most states freely permit employers to conduct post-accident drug tests, a few states impose limitations on when post-accident testing can occur. For instance, some jurisdictions such as the states of Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and the cities of Boulder, CO, and San Francisco, CA, permit post-accident testing only if the employer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the employee was impaired at the time of the accident. Further, some states, such as California, Iowa, and Montana, require that the accident reach certain threshold levels for the extent of personal injury or property damage before an employee can be tested. Thus, employers must check applicable state laws to confirm such requirements.

Reasonable Suspicion Testing
Under most state laws, an employer is required to provide an employee a safe place to work. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that employers provide their employees safe and healthy places of employment, which means the employer must identify and address potential hazards. As such, employers must ensure that employees operating equipment, driving vehicles, or performing potentially hazardous work are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol that can create hazardous conditions to any employee who may be impaired or to co-employees who may be injured because of the impaired employee’s actions. One component of ensuring safe operations is reasonable suspicion drug testing. Under most jurisdictions, an employer is permitted to require a drug test when there is reasonable suspicion, based upon specific, contemporaneous, objective, and articulable facts concerning an employee’s appearance, behavior, speech, or body odors that an employee is under the influence.

One of the biggest concerns regarding reasonable suspicion testing is whether the employer’s suspicion was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. To avoid this issue, it is advisable that employer’s define reasonable suspicion in its drug testing policy and identify specific behaviors that may trigger such suspicion. To develop this definition, employers should look to their state and municipal jurisdictions, which may specifically define reasonable suspicion, “cause,” or “probable cause.”

For example, the Illinois Compas-sionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, which became effective on January 1, 2014, defines impairment as follows:

An employer may consider a registered qualifying patient to be impaired when he or she manifests specific, articulable symptoms while working that decrease or lessen his or her performance of the duties or tasks of the employee’s job position, including symptoms of the employee’s speech, physical dexterity, agility, coordination, demeanor, irrational or unusual behavior, negligence or carelessness in operating equipment or machinery, disregard for the safety of the employee or others, or involvement in an accident that results in any injury to the employee or others. If an employer elects to discipline a qualifying patient under this subsection, it must afford the employee a reasonable opportunity to contest the basis of the determination.

It is also advisable that an employer implement a written “Reasonable Suspicion Checklist” for a supervisor to document incidents involving reasonable suspicion of impairment. The employer should complete the checklist within 24 hours of the observed appearance that led to the reasonable suspicion. The employer should also document all of the indications that led to the reasonable suspicion, such as:

• Breath, clothes, hair, or hands smell like alcohol or marijuana
• Breath smells like mouthwash, mints, or gum
• Physical appearance disheveled/unkempt
• Eyes bloodshot, glassy, or watery
• Eyelids droopy or puffy
• Dilated or pinpoint pupils
• Involuntary eye movements
• Wearing sunglasses
• Sudden, marked mood swings, particularly after breaks, or sudden, marked changes in activity level
• Unusually argumentative, irri-table, or hostile
• Paranoid/unusually anxious
• Face flushed or pale
• Sniffles
• Sleepy/drowsy
• Unusual sweating
• Speech slurred, incoherent, or rambling
• Will not talk or stop talking
• Voice unusually loud or soft
• Stumbles, staggers, or falls when walking
• Sways, sags, or leans on support when standing
• Movements jerky or uncoor-dinated
• Acts hyperactive
• Moves very slowly
• Trembles/shakes
• Nausea or vomiting
• Erratic or violent actions
• Depressed
• Confused/disoriented

The checklist should be signed and dated by the observing supervisor on the same day as the observation. If possible, it should be countersigned and dated by another supervisor on the same day as the observation to corroborate the observation.

Impose Discipline
Once an employer has determined, through a timely investigation and documented positive drug test results, that there has been a violation of its drug testing policy, the employer must impose discipline in a uniform fashion in accordance with its policy. This includes a written warning, suspension, termination, or participation in a “second chance” agreement in lieu of immediate termination requiring an employee who has tested positive to participate in a drug rehabilitation program for a specified period and thereafter to remain drug free. In the event of a future violation of the policy, the employee will be subject to immediate termination for violation of the policy and agreement.

All employers should consider developing and implementing a drug testing policy to create a safer work environment. There have been numerous tragic workplace accidents that are the result of employee use of marijuana (and other drugs). It is important that employers review local laws to ensure their testing policies do not inadvertently violate such laws. If the foregoing actions are taken, the employer can substantially limit its potential legal liabilities arising out of illegal drug usage that results in employee impairment.

June 2014 RENDER | back