What Employees Need to Know About US DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing

August 4, 2020
Anna Jankowska, LCPC

By Anna Jankowska, MA, CEAP, SAP, LCPC

Anna Jankowska is a mental health, addiction, and substance abuse counselor with over 17 years of experience and has specialized training and skill in working with individuals, groups and communities to improve mental health outcomes. NPI number: 1598843526

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires drug testing for a variety of reasons.  Anyone who holds a job that can impact their own and the public’s safety is subject to DOT drug and alcohol testing.  These are known as safety-sensitive positions or employees.  Some examples of DOT departments with safety-sensitive positions are; Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Railroad Administration, and the Federal Transit Authority. These employees are subject to random drug and alcohol screening based on the Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 40. 

There is specific conduct prohibited by DOT regulations.  An employee cannot possess alcohol or any illicit drug while assigned to perform safety-sensitive functions or while performing these functions.  An employee cannot report for service or remain on duty if they are under the influence of alcohol or have used any illicit drug.  An employee must not use alcohol within four hours or 8 for flight crew members of reporting for service.  One cannot report for duty or remain on duty when using any controlled substance unless used pursuant to the instructions of an authorized medical practitioner.  An employee must not refuse to submit to any test for alcohol or controlled substance or refuse to submit to any test by adulterating or substituting your specimen.   

To ensure that these regulations are followed testing can happen randomly.  Random drug tests are known as the best tool employers have for deterring drug and alcohol use in the workplace.  By implementing random drug testing, lives are saved, injuries are prevented, and employer liability is reduced.  This is a fair way of testing and the random testing rate is regulated by the DOT Agency that regulates each specific transportation industry.  The pool of employees who are selected for random testing are based on their job function and not their occupational title.  DOT testing is separate from a company’s private non-DOT testing program. 

There are also other reasons for a safety-sensitive employee to require drug testing.  Testing is done prior to employment, reasonable suspicion/cause, return-to-duty testing, follow-up testing, and post-accident testing.  If the test is failed, DOT regulations require you to be immediately removed by your employer from performing any DOT safety-sensitive job.  An employer must receive a negative drug test before permitting an employee to begin their safety-sensitive duties.  An employee may also be tested if they appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  This is determined by one or more trained supervisors having a suspicion that the employee is under the influence.  This would be immediate testing.

Return to duty testing refers to an employee who tested positive, refused to test, or otherwise violated the prohibitions of 49 CFR and have completed the return-to-duty process with a DOT qualified substance abuse professional (SAP).  The test is directly observed and must be negative before the employee can resume their position.    

Follow up testing is required for an employee who tested positive, refused, or otherwise violated the prohibitions of 49 CFR and have completed the return-to-duty process with a DOT qualified SAP, and has tested negative for the return-to-duty test.  This testing can vary, and it is prescribed by the SAP for a minimum of 6 directly observed tests in 12 months but can also be extended for an additional four years.

The final reason for testing is post-accident testing.  If an employee is involved in an accident meeting certain criteria of the DOT agency, a post-accident test will be required.  This is an obligation of the employee, by law, to submit and cooperate to these mandated DOT regulations. 

Testing is performed for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opioids, and phencyclidine using urine.  Testing is performed for alcohol using breath and saliva.  An employer must know the testing processes in order to ensure proper procedures are followed.  This protects the interest of the company and its employees. 

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