Wednesday, September 21, 2011

DOT Training and Reasonable Suspicion Tip 3: “It’s medicine!”

Here is another tip for you to consider in your DOT Training for Supervisors.
This is a claim that requires you to be very careful about your approach. It might be medicine; it might be alcohol. Deal with your employee with the idea in mind that she might be telling you the truth. A false accusation can carry negative consequences for years. If an innocent employee believes you’ve impugned her integrity, your relationship may be permanently harmed.

This does NOT mean you should back off. Politely ask your employee for specifics about her medication—what it is, when it was prescribed, its side effects, and whether she can produce the medicine bottle or a prescription. You can also ask for contact information for the physician who prescribed the medicine. Carefully document each response.

Remember, if it smells like alcohol, then you can support your documentation even if you turn out to be wrong. What the employee claims that you smell is not part of the “screening out” process. This is about your observations, not someone else’s assertions.

Mixing alcohol with some medications can exaggerate their side effects. It’s possible that your employee is telling you the truth about her medication, but has also consumed alcohol. Or your employee may be abusing her medication by taking it in greater amounts than prescribed.

Don’t pressure yourself to figure everything out on the spot. Let your observations guide whether there’s reasonable suspicion and allow testing to make the final judgment.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

DOT Training and Reasonable Suspicion Tip 2: “It’s mouthwash.”

Here is another tip for you to consider in your DOT Training for Supervisors.
This statement can put you in a tough spot because it seems plausible enough to introduce doubt. Don’t let this sway you from testing your employee.

If you can smell alcohol on your employee’s breath, then you can document it to support a test for reasonable suspicion. You’re also likely to have other supporting evidence like slurred speech, erratic behavior, trouble walking, etc. If your employee has been at work for awhile, you can ask him/her to show you the mouthwash, but don’t require it.

You’re focused on smell. It doesn’t make any difference whether the employee used mouthwash or not. Ethyl alcohol-based beverages and their metabolization have a common smell. The supervisor does not have to describe the smell of alcohol. “I smelled alcohol” is good enough. Document your observations and administer a test as quickly as reasonably possible.

Be careful not to accuse or rush to judgment. It might be mouthwash, or maybe not. Avoid getting into arguments with your employee. Your goal should be to keep your employee calm and allow your testing to determine whether there’s a significant amount of alcohol in his/her system. You don’t have to prove anything right now other than reasonable suspicion. Explain to your employee that the best way to clear up any confusion is take a required test.

Keep in mind that your employee may be telling you the truth and still be intoxicated. Some alcoholics in the later stages of the disease have consumed mouthwash in quantities large enough to induce intoxication—some mouthwashes are 50 proof or more. Alcohol rehabilitation facilities ban mouthwash based on their potential for abuse.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

DOT Supervisor Training and Reasonable Suspicion Trap 1: “I haven’t had a drink since last night!”

Here is another tip for you to consider in your DOT Supervisor Training.
In the heat of the moment, this excuse can seem quite reasonable, especially for those of us who have had a few late nights ourselves. Here’s something you probably won’t consider in the heat of the moment—just how long ago was “last night”?

Depending on when your employee stopped drinking, it can be as few as 3-4 of hours. Knocking off at 4am and catching a couple hours of sleep before work may fool your employee into thinking it’s a new day, but he can’t fool his body. Sleeping doesn’t metabolize alcohol and sober you up any faster than if you were awake.

But isn’t even 4 hours long enough to sober up? Not necessarily. Don’t make the mistake of projecting your own consumption habits onto your employee. He may have consumed an amount that far exceeds your own capacity. If your employee has a substance abuse problem, it’s far more likely that he’s been engaging in binge drinking. Having 10 or more drinks in one sitting is not unheard of.

Employees who have a high tolerance to alcohol could have their last drink late at night and still be under the influence well after sunrise. They don’t have to drink just before coming to work or first thing in the morning to be under the influence. Don’t let this statement convince you that a test is unnecessary.