Remote Worker Substance Use & Reasonable Suspicion

Working from home allows for more freedom with how we approach our workday – but while most of us see things like the lack of a commute, or more flexible working hours as the primary benefits of working from home, according to a new study, a surprisingly large percentage of remote workers see on-the-job use of recreational drugs and alcohol as a key benefit of working from home. In the first segment of this episode, we speak with Dr. Jasleen Chhatwal, Chief Medical Officer of Sierra Tucson, who conducted a study into the remote worker substance use phenomenon, and in the second segment, we speak with Chris Kelly, the CEO and President of Kelmar Safety, who gives us guidance on "reasonable suspicion". Here, they'll explain:

  • The findings of Sierra Tucson's Self-Medication Nation Survey;
  • The reasons behind pandemic-era alcohol and substance use;
  • The impact of on-the-job employee alcohol and substance use on a company; and
  • What it means to have "reasonable suspicion" of an employee's on-the-job alcohol or substance use and the steps to take if you do.

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SEGMENT 1: Dr. Jasleen Chhatwal and the Self-Medication Nation Survey

‘Self Medication Nation’ Survey

  • Dr. Chhatwal and her team noted skyrocketing rates of addiction across the country, and within her own program, and they wanted to take a closer look as to why this was happening.
  • Dr. Chhatwal and her team, along with the company Ipsos, created a survey for people to self-select and self-report about remote worker substance use.
  • The study found that people were struggling with loneliness, stress, depression, and anxiety, and 20% of people who self-reported were using alcohol or marijuana during working hours to alleviate this stress. 
  • Out of the people who were using, 50% say they were using alcohol or marijuana for enjoyment, but 20-30% were using because of anxiety, stress, and depression.
    • This was a multi-choice survey, and some people were reported using for enjoyment as well as for stress, anxiety, etc.
  • The findings of the survey also surprised Dr. Chhatwal based on the number of people who reported remote worker substance use, and if there are professions where this is okay, or if people are using regardless because of the lack of control in a remote workforce. 


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Substance Abuse and Work

  • While this was only a one time survey, people said they had not always used substances while working, and this survey was conducted when many people were working remotely. 
  • There has been an increase in general for substance abuse, and people are generally consuming more alcohol and marijuana since the pandemic began.
  • There are many people who engage in substance abuse until it becomes a major problem for themselves, and that insight may not come until someone else notices they are not doing as well.
  • It is important that some people recognize remote worker substance use behaviors before returning to in-person work, and that those people seek treatment if necessary.
    • If people are not getting well from mental health issues or substance use conditions, there is likely an underlying issue that keeps them from being stuck, and treatment can help identify strengths to help with their recovery. 

Demographic Data

  • Based on the survey, the rates for people who are increasing their remote worker substance use has increased across the board, regardless of age,gender, and geographic location.
    • There was a slight uptick for older men and younger men, however, it was not necessarily statistically significant

Dr. Jasleen Chhatwal Background

  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery - MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth University Medical College
  • Fellowship, Integrative Medicine from the Arizona College of Integrative Medicine
  • Dr. Chhatwal served under a variety of titles with a variety of healthcare facilities in Arizona, including Banner Health and the University of Arizona College of Medicine
  • She worked as an ECP Representative and, ultimately, as ECP Chair for the American Psychiatric Association
  • She is currently the Chief Medical Officer for Sierra Tucson, and also serves as the President of the Arizona Psychiatric Society


SEGMENT 2: Chris Kelly and “Reasonable Suspicion”

How Can Substance Abuse Impact a Company?

  • Even remote worker substance abuse can have an impact on an employee and their performance through lack of productivity, absenteeism, and ultimately, turnover and these can end up having an impact on the company’s bottom line
  • Education is one of the most important things that can prevent substance use in the workplace before it happens. This includes talking about the company’s policy, the effects of drugs, and clearly laying out the procedures involving drug testing and the subsequent actions.

Legality of Remote Work Procedures

  • While companies can implement procedures prohibiting employees from engaging in remote worker substance use, this can cause problems from a legal standpoint. 
    • Performing work regardless of location, should not have an impact on employee procedures and policies, and the consequences should also be the same
  • Remote employees can be tested for drugs, as long as this is spelled out within the company’s policy, and being mindful of the local legislation. 
    • Conducting random testing, using a verified, third-party testing facilitator, and a clear methodology behind the testing are also important to keeping both the employee and the company in check. 
    • Having a clear testing procedure can also be a deterrent for substance use in the workplace. 

Reasonable Suspicion

  • Productivity and presence is important, and monitoring the productivity of an employee can note when an employee needs help.
  • It is also within the right of a company to conduct a drug test if the company suspects they are using substances and it goes against company policy. 
  • Reasonable suspicion is more than just saying “I think..” but also noting changes in behavior and developing proper documentation, and dealing with the results based on the company’s HR policy. 
  • If a leader has reasonable suspicion that an employee is having remote worker substance use issues, the employee can observe, document, test, and report the results of the test to take action based on the company policy. Additionally, if the test is negative, and this is a different problem, it is also important to find the root of the problem.

Chris Kelly Background

  • Attended Southern Ohio Business College
  • Ms. Kelly began her career as a Driver with Quality Contract Carriers, eventually serving as Director of Fleet Recruiting for Celadon Trucking and Transportation Safety Consultant for Wolf Technical Services, Inc.
  • She is currently a Certified Director of Safety (CDS) with the North American Transportation Management Institute
  • Ms. Kelly is the CEO/President of Kelmar Safety, Inc.


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