Last updated: June 5, 2023
Courts have consistently upheld every employer’s right to drug test, but certain employers are required to do so. Those that are required to test have a very specific regimen to follow. Do you know what kind of drug testing would be best for your company? More importantly, do you know if yours is one of those that doesn’t have a choice? Finding out the difference between DOT and non-DOT drug testing is the first step.
The Department of Transportation requires drug and alcohol testing for employees working in safety-sensitive industries where substance abuse clearly poses a public danger, including, among others:
- aviation workers, including flight crews, flight attendants, and flight instructors, as well as air traffic controllers, maintenance personnel, and ground security personnel
- commercial motor carriers
- members of the United Sates Coast Guard
- pipeline personnel involved in operations, maintenance, and emergency response
- railroad employees, including engineers, signalers, and dispatchers
- transit professionals, including truck drivers, mechanics, and armed security
When the DOT is involved, there must be testing in place, it has to follow a schedule, and it has to test for specific substances. Tests should be conducted pre-employment, randomly, after an accident, upon reasonable suspicion, on return to duty, and then follow-up testing. In addition to alcohol use, the following “5 panel” list of drugs is used to screen:
Furthermore, a DOT drug test has to follow standardized procedures established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), be conducted by federally certified technicians, and be reviewed by a qualified Medical Review Officer (MRO).
Clearly, DOT drug test is narrowly defined and regulated, and any other kind of testing would be considered non-DOT.
Remember, every employer is entitled to drug test employees. The difference between DOT and non-DOT drug testing is the employer has more latitude in the latter case.
Often the frequency is similar to DOT drug screening, but programs can be customized to test more or less often and for a broader range of substances—heroin, barbiturates, codeine, morphine, tranquilizers, and steroids—and at levels tailored to company needs.
Testing can be scheduled and involve methods other than the urine and breathalyzer tests normally used in the DOT regimen—hair, blood, and/or saliva tests, for example. Still, while non-DOT testing regimens are less restrictive, individual programs are governed by state law and subject to legal guidelines established by the Department of Labor and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Furthermore, where legally mandated DOT testing is based on the need to ensure public safety, non-DOT rules focus on ensuring programs are fair and unbiased toward the donor.
Although non-DOT employers are free to establish their own programs, creating a legally compliant drug testing protocol is easier and safer when SAMHSA guidelines are used. Employers or employees unsure of whether they’re subject to Department of Transportation requirements can get the answers they need via the user-friendly “Am I Covered?” questionnaire provided on the DOT website, but an even safer option might be contracting with a drug testing provider that offers complete service.
Many mobile drug testing companies stay current on federal and state laws governing drug testing, up to and including specific ADA exceptions for recovering substance abusers and employees taking legally prescribed drugs. Ergo, these certified professionals can create a non-DOT program for the employer’s specific needs, saving the company time and money while mitigating possible legal risk. They work with DOT companies often, so they can more deftly handle the differences and requirements of both. For example, did you know that an employer subject to DOT regulations can also opt for a wider panel, but a separate non-DOT sample must be collected for use in any additional tests? Mobile drug testing companies know things like this because they must know. That kind of knowledge is what makes navigating the waters of drug testing so much easier, whether it’s DOT or non-DOT drug testing.