Rhode Island: Court Affirms When Employers May Conduct “Reasonable Grounds” Drug Testing


All Employers with RI Employees


May 29, 2020


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Rhode Island’s drug testing law allows employers to have employees undergo drug testing when the employer has “reasonable grounds” to believe that the employee may be under the influence of a controlled substance impairing their ability to perform their job.  In a recent case, the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed that the “reasonable grounds” standard can apply even where there is another possible explanation for an employee’s impaired behavior.

In Colpitts v. W.B. Mason Co., Inc., an employee reported an injury while working as a supply delivery driver in 2018.  Upon reporting the injury, the employee was initially questioned by management, who determined he may have been impaired due to observing his erratic behavior, excessive swearing, and difficulty speaking in compete sentences.  The employee revealed that he had been using medical marijuana since 2017 and refused a drug test.  He was terminated for violating company policy by refusing the drug test.

The employee argued that his erratic behavior was attributed to pain from his injuries, and there was no evidence that indicated he was under the influence of drugs; therefore, the employer had no basis for requiring drug testing.  The Rhode Island Supreme Court disagreed, stating that the drug testing statute does not require an employer to be “certain” that an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to request testing.  Even if the employee’s behavior was attributed to pain, the employer could reasonably believe that he may have been impaired by drug or alcohol use.

Action Items

  1. Review drug testing policies and procedures for consistency with this ruling.
  2. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2020 ManagEase

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