Reasonable Suspicion of Drug or Alcohol Impairment


Effective Date: Expiration Date: Chapters:
Nov. 3, 2022 When Superseded 4  


To promote workplace safety and health for all employees, employees suspected of drug or alcohol impairment at work may be referred for reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing. This issuance provides guidance regarding reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing, including the referral and testing processes.

This issuance supersedes issuance I-4-39, Reasonable Suspicion Drug & Alcohol Testing, effective October 6, 2017.

A Drug Free Workplace

The District government provides its employees with a drug-free workplace. For this reason, employees may not engage in the unlawful manufacturing, distribution, dispensing, possession, or use of a controlled substance or alcohol while on duty. Employees are also prohibited from being impaired by any drug or alcohol at work, including but not limited to while performing work for the District government or during the Employee’s hours of work. This provision applies to any employee while at work, regardless of whether the employee is physically at their duty station or teleworking, traveling on District government business or in transit between duty stations, and regardless of whether their position is designated for enhanced suitability screening.  

Whenever there is a reasonable suspicion that an employee is working while impaired by alcohol or drugs, the employee shall be subject to drug and alcohol testing to verify compliance with the drug-free workplace policy. Any employee who tests positive for drugs or alcohol shall be subject to appropriate administrative action.

NOTE: The District government’s drug-free workplace policy also applies to volunteers and interns working for the District government.

Reasonable Suspicion

All managers and supervisors must receive training to identify the signs of alcohol and drug impairment. When a trained supervisory official observes an employee exhibiting signs of impairment that may be related to the use of drugs or alcohol, the trained supervisory official shall initiate the reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing referral process.  

Reasonable Suspicion - Observation

The trained supervisory official begins the referral process by observing the employee and documenting all factors contributing to suspected impairment by drugs or alcohol. Some signs of drug or alcohol impairment may include:

  • Bloodshot eyes, or pupils larger or smaller than usual;
  • Unusually disheveled physical appearance;
  • Falling asleep or fainting;
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination;
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing; or
  • Any other erratic or atypical behavior of a type that is consistent with drug or alcohol usage.

The trained supervisory official may also directly observe drug use or possession by the employee, or the employee may be witnessed or admit to using a drug or alcohol while on duty. Regardless of how the suspected impairment is identified, the supervisory official should immediately record their findings using the Reasonable Suspicion Observation Form. Whenever possible, a second trained manager or supervisor should be asked to conduct a reasonable suspicion observation of the employee and complete a separate observation form.

The trained supervisory official will also prepare an incident report or similar document detailing context relevant to the suspicion of impairment with input from involved parties and witnesses, if available, and will attach any additional documents to the Reasonable Suspicion Observation Form.

Reasonable Suspicion - Referral

After the trained supervisory official performs a reasonable suspicion observation and documents their findings, the official must refer the employee for testing by following these steps:

  1. Make the referral to DCHR: Report the relevant details of the suspicions via telephone, complete the electronic Reasonable Suspicion Observation Form and supply any supporting documents. After consulting DCHR, the trained supervisory official must notify their agency MDAT Coordinator or HR Advisors of the drug and alcohol testing referral.
    Monday-Friday, 9am – 5pm Collections
    Brittany Richardson, Program Coordinator
    Sierra Dangerfield, Compliance Manager
    (202) 306-7221
  2. Receive confirmation: DCHR’s Compliance Team will review the information provided and determine if testing is warranted. If testing is not warranted, the agency will be notified to end observation efforts. If testing is warranted, DCHR will notify the agency’s point of contact of the time and location for the drug and alcohol testing.
    If testing is required after normal business hours, the supervisor must consult the agency’s Designated Employee Representative (DER), who will determine whether testing is warranted and, if it is, will contact the vendor directly. The vendor will make all collection arrangements and testing will proceed without prior confirmation from DCHR’s Compliance Team. The supervisor should still provide the documentation to DCHR’s Compliance Team as soon as possible.
    After Hours Collections
    In the event an employee needs to be tested outside of normal business hours, contact Cherry Collections at (301) 792-5205 for a collector. The collection company will arrange the collection with the collector, agency’s representative, and the employee’s supervisor.
  3.  Prepare the employee for testing: The supervisor will inform the employee, privately, that he or she will be receiving a drug and alcohol test. The supervisor must remain with the employee until completion of the testing process, including during transport to a testing location if applicable. Union employees are entitled to representation from the first available union representative, if requested.
NOTE: Safety Sensitive employees may not engage in safety sensitive duties while the result of any reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing is pending.
  1.  Special procedures for alcohol testing: A reasonable suspicion alcohol test must be conducted within two hours of the observed behavior. If testing cannot be administered within two hours, the supervisor shall prepare a written record explaining the reason(s) the test was not administered promptly. If a reasonable suspicion alcohol test cannot be administered within eight hours following the observed behavior, attempts to administer the test shall cease, with a written explanation as to the reason(s) the test was not completed. Written explanations shall be submitted to the DCHR Compliance Team.
  2. Transport the employee home: After the employee completes the required test(s), the employee shall be relieved from their duties for the day and placed on administrative leave for the remainder of their scheduled shift. No supervisor shall permit an employee suspected of being under the influence to drive home. Instead, supervisors must take all necessary steps to ensure the employee is transported home safely. The employee should remain on administrative leave until the testing results are received.
  3. All reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing shall be conducted in accordance with § 427 of the District Personnel Manual.

Test Results and Suitability Determinations

Upon receipt of the results of the applicable test(s), the DCHR Compliance Team will issue an electronic suitability notification via email.

Negative Test Results

As it relates to drug and alcohol testing, the employee will be deemed suitable if the results are negative. The notification will state that the employee’s test results were negative, and that the employee is suitable for continued employment. Agencies should take the following steps after receiving a suitable notification:

  1. Prepare and serve the employee with a return to duty notice; and
  2. Discuss with the employee why the test was conducted and the test results and, if performance or conduct are implicated, expectations going forward.

Positive Test Results - General

If the test results are positive, subsequent administrative action depends on the nature of the position occupied by the employee. If the position is “Safety Sensitive,” DCHR will initiate an appropriate administrative action against the employee, which may include termination.

Safety Sensitive Employees

When a Safety Sensitive employee is found unsuitable due to a reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol test, the agency must immediately send the materials listed below to DCHR’s Compliance Team:

  1. Position description;
  2. Previous progressive disciplinary actions;
  3. Personnel evaluations for the last 3 years;
  4. Completed Reasonable Suspicion Observation form(s);
  5. Incident report or similar document related to the observed behavior including statements from all available witnesses;
  6. Collective bargaining agreement, if applicable; and
  7. Safety Sensitive designation acknowledgement form signed by the employee.

DCHR’s Compliance Team will provide the agency additional guidance on next steps.

Other Employees (non-Safety Sensitive)

For employees not occupying Safety Sensitive positions, DCHR’s Compliance Team will notify the agency of the positive drug and alcohol test results. The agency must take either corrective or adverse action consistent with its past practice, internal policies, and Chapter 16 of the District Personnel Manual, as well as the applicable collective bargaining agreement if the employee is unionized.

Presumption of Impairment by Cannabis

A positive cannabis test result after a properly referred reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol test shall constitute evidence that the employee was impermissibly impaired by cannabis, regardless of the employee’s participation in any medical marijuana program. An employee may attempt to overcome this presumption of impairment such as by demonstrating that a medication the employee uses is limited to CBD with only trace amounts of THC, or that the employee’s use of cannabis was so remote in time from when the employee reported for duty as to not present a risk of impairment. Evidence supplied by an employee to rebut a presumption of cannabis impairment must be clear and convincing. Safety sensitive employees who test positive for cannabis are presumed in violation of policy. 

Supervisory Training

All managers and supervisors shall participate in reasonable suspicion training provided by DCHR or through a qualified vendor approved by DCHR. Managers and supervisors must participate in reasonable suspicion training within 60 days of their appointment to their supervisory position, and thereafter, participate in training at least once every two years.

Training content includes the identification of physical, behavioral, speech, and performance indicators of possible alcohol or drug impairment, and the confidentiality obligations of supervisors and managers relating to an employee’s suspected impairment and test results.

Additional Information

For additional information concerning this instruction, please contact the D.C. Department of Human Resources, Policy and Compliance Administration, by calling (202) 442-9700 or by sending an email to



All District government employees and volunteers, including those in independent agencies who are subject to Chapter 4 of the D.C. personnel regulations, are subject to reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing.


  1. Attachment 1 - Reasonable Suspicion Observation Form
  2. Attachment 2 - DCSF No. 04-09A - Drug Free Workplace Notification Form - Safety Sensitive
  3. Attachment 3 - DCSF No. 04-09B - Drug Free Workplace Notification Form - Protection Sensitive
  4. Attachment 4 - DCSF No. 04-09C - Drug Free Workplace Notification Form

Issued by Interim Director E. Lindsey Maxwell II, Esq., D.C. Department of Human Resources on Nov. 3, 2022, 1:32 p.m.