Last updated: November 27, 2023
Drug testing safety-sensitive employees helps ensure everyone’s safety when traveling. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires all safety-sensitive employees to submit to a drug test.
DOT drug testing began back in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan implemented the Drug-Free Workplace Program as part of the war on drugs. It required, both, pre-employment drug testing and reasonable suspicion testing of employees regulated by the federal government. The federal government urged all employers of the general workforce to take part in drug-free workplace programs as well. Some states offer incentives for employers to do so, such as a reduction of worker’s compensation insurance premiums for instance.
Requiring safety-sensitive employees to submit to drug testing has proven itself to be beneficial for the department—and thus, the public at large as well.
Industries mandated to drug test employees are:
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
- Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
- Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
- U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
When are drug tests conducted?
Initially, the DOT only mandated pre-employment and reasonable suspicion drug tests. Today, there are six DOT drug tests. They are performed under the following circumstances:
Pre-employment Drug Testing
Anyone applying for a job in an industry regulated by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Association (FMCSA) must submit to a pre-employment DOT drug test. A negative result clears them to begin work for the company.
Post-Accident Drug Testing
Drivers must submit to post-accident testing for the following:
- After a fatal accident, whether or not the driver was cited
- Injury accidents when the driver was cited if emergency medical treatment is necessary
- Property damage accidents if the driver was cited and vehicle towing is required.
Random Drug Testing
Owner-operators must be entered into a random drug-testing pool of names. Names are drawn periodically from the pool to determine who is to be randomly tested throughout the year. A company’s total number of employees determines the number of employees drawn for the random test.
Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing
DOT-regulated employers are responsible for conducting drug tests on a safety-sensitive employee who is exhibiting signs of drug use. A supervisor informs the employee of the suspicion in private and they report immediately for testing. The employee may not drive themselves to a testing facility. Instead, someone drives them to the testing location. Another option is contacting a company to come and administer the test on-site.
Return-to-Duty Drug Testing
A safety-sensitive employee who tests positive for drug or alcohol use—or who refuses to take a drug test—is immediately removed from service. To return to work, they must complete the return-to-duty process. After successfully completing the set treatment program and being signed off by their DOT-approved substance abuse professional (SAP), they are scheduled for return-to-duty testing.
Follow-up Drug Testing
If an employee returns to their job after completing the return-to-duty process, they must undergo at least six follow-up drug tests. The drug tests are scheduled randomly and must be completed during the initial 12 months after returning to work.
Test cut-off levels
The test cut-off levels have not changed for 2023.
There is a significant change to the way employers search for past drug and alcohol violations though.
FMCSA Clearinghouse makes tracking easier
January 2023 marked the end of employers being required to reach out to a job candidate’s past employers to inquire about any drug or alcohol violations in their past work history. The FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse has been up and running for three years now. Mandated employers have been reporting any drug or alcohol violations to the Clearinghouse during that entire time. As projected, the FMCSA is confident that the database contains all drug or alcohol violations now. Therefore, it eliminates the need to contact former employers.
In the past, some drivers who are less than honest have been guilty of moving to an entirely new state, obtaining a CDL, and not reporting prior violations on their resumes. Others just don’t bother to list the employer they worked for when they received the violation. Either way, it allowed some to slip through the cracks and allowed them to continue driving without having any type of rehab or counseling to help them stop using drugs or alcohol.
Since employers have been mandated to report all drug and alcohol violations since January 2020, the database is now the only place that DOT-regulated employers need to look. There is no way that anyone has a chance of going undetected.
The types of drugs tested for haven’t changed over the years with the exception of the addition of four synthetic opioids in January 2018. They are oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone.
The other drugs included on the DOT drug test are:
Currently, the only approved testing method is the urine test. However, in February 2022, the DOT issued a proposed rule change. When finalized, saliva testing will be added as an approved alternative to the urine test.
The more things change
Ensuring that the public at large can travel about the country safely is the reason the Department of Transportation was formed in the first place. Even though there haven’t been any major changes to the DOT drug testing regulations, the changes we’ve seen come to pass over recent years have made our highways—and other modes of traveling cross-country—safer.
Drug use alters someone’s ability to think clearly, stay focused, and can markedly slow down the amount of time it takes someone to react to a situation. People who use drugs and then hop behind the steering wheel put everyone on the road at risk. The DOT commits itself to continue finding ways to ensure that those instances don’t involve someone transporting people or products from one place to another.
It wouldn’t hurt to perform a self-audit and review your drug and alcohol testing protocol to ensure that you’re meeting all regulatory requirements, as well as any additional internal requirements put into place by your company. Always notify your drivers of any changes to the procedure in writing. We’ll note here, too, that since you no longer need to contact previous employers regarding safety performance history, those questions should be removed from the form. Only the Clearinghouse query is necessary from this point on.