Workplace Impairment and Reasonable Suspicion

Did you know that 60% of people who report difficulties with addictive substances are employed full-time? This means that up to 20 million U.S. employees are using substances in a way that likely impacts their work or workplace. CSEAP is available to support employees who are concerned about addiction or problem use of substances. CSEAP also assists supervisors, managers, and leaders in responding to impairment impacting the workplace and addressing an employee-of-concern. National Business Group on Health, 2009.

Strategies & Responses: Impairment Impacting the Workplace

Click on the collapsible menu topics below to assist in guiding your response to reasonable suspicion or impairment impacting the workplace. In addition, you will find links to the most recently updated Universal Policy and Technical Guide within in the menu topics below.

The State of Colorado Universal Drug and Alcohol Policy provides guiding principles for state agencies in their response to employee impairment at work or use that impacts the workplace. Updates to this Universal Policy were released in January 2017 and again in May 2019, highlights and/or changes to the Universal Policy include:

  • Recognition that performance may be impacted by on- or off-duty use of alcohol or other drugs,
  • Use of marijuana, by a state employee, may be prohibited regardless of state laws or recommendation by a medical or other provider,
  • It is a policy violation if an employee is impaired while subject to duty,
  • Volunteers, interns, and contractors, just as with employees, are listed as 'covered workers' in the Universal Policy,
  • Consequences for impairment impacting the workplace can include referral to CSEAP up to corrective or disciplinary action.

There are many signs and symptoms that an employee may be using at work, or may have used immediately prior to or in the hours leading up to reporting to the workplace. Substances impact different people in different ways but, depending on the substance, there may be consistent ways that our bodies respond thereby indicating use and/or impairment. It's important to assess what about the employee's appearance or behaviors is concerning to you. If you are a co-worker, immediately report your concerns to your supervisor, manager, team lead, or Human Resources. If you are a manager or supervisor, contact Human Resources with your concerns and use the following 'BOAS' questions to assess and begin documenting your concerns:

  • Behaviors - Is the employee staggering, disoriented, acting erratically?
  • Odor - Do you smell alcohol, marijuana, chemicals?
  • Appearance - Is the employee disheveled? Does the employee have glassy eyes, shakes, tremors?
  • Speech - Is the employee slurring words, incoherent, incomprehensible?

The 'BOAS' examples listed above are not exhaustive. See this SAMPLE reasonable suspicion checklist form that includes many other signs and symptoms of substance use impacting the workplace. This sample form is available for download to all state agencies interested in customizing it with their logo and making available to supervisors, managers, other leaders, and Human Resources professionals.

Once you've established that an employee may be using substances on the job or is impaired while at work, contact the appropriate leaders or collaborators in your organization including your manager or Appointing Authority (or designee) and Human Resources. You've already begun jotting down notes in response to the 'BOAS' questions but you'll also need to complete formal documentation as required by your agency or department (see previous section). Next, you'll need to address the employee-of-concern in an effort to maintain a safe and orderly work environment. When confronting an employee about impairment, consider the following tips and strategies:


  • Seek approval for reasonable suspicion testing prior to meeting with the employee,
  • Arrange a private space away from co-workers and colleagues where you can meet with the employee, If you are not immediately able to meet with the employee, be sure they are supervised while in the private office or space,
  • Keep your feedback focused on immediate performance or safety issues e.g.. "I've noticed that you're stumbling and slurring your words."
  • Do not offer your opinions about why the employee may be behaving in a concerning manner, Instead, ask open ended questions like, "Tell me what's going on this morning," or, "Let me know what may be causing these behaviors/actions."
  • Use this interaction to gather more information about the situation including smells ie. alcohol or marijuana, impairment to speech, general state of being i.e.. sleepy, anxious, agitated, belligerent, etc.

CSEAP is available to employees, their supervisors and leaders throughout the process of reasonable suspicion discussion and testing.

Services for Employees

  • Confidential counseling related to suspected use at work or impacting work
  • Education on safe and dangerous use of substances
  • Assessment of current use and whether this use indicates referral for treatment
  • Assistance in identifying treatment providers and/or assistance in accessing services through your health insurance provider
  • Written confirmation that you have attended CSEAP sessions (if this is required by your employer)

Services for Supervisors, Leaders, HR

  • Consultation regarding Universal Policy and suggested best practice in response to suspected impairment impacting the workplace
  • Strategies to implement while discussing suspected impairment with an employee
  • Suggestions regarding documentation of suspected impairment
  • Considerations concerning impairment including whether impairment may be caused by a medical issue
  • CSEAP offers presentations to state agencies addressing the Universal Policy, impact of use on the workplace, and available resources

Additional Resources

NEW - Remote Work and Impairment Tip Sheet

Supervisor Response to Reasonable Suspicion

Alcoholism in the Workplace

Impact of Marijuana Use on the Workplace

Drugs and the Workplace

Problematic Alcohol Use - Assessment and Resources

Treatment Finder

CSEAP Reasonable Suspicion Presentations

CSEAP offers presentations to Colorado state agency work settings on managing reasonable suspicion in the workplace. Click through the slides below for a preview of information presented either on-site or via webinar. Contact janeen.hallerabernethy@state.co.us to request a presentation.