Last updated: January 18, 2021
Last March, the Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC) provided guidance regarding how to handle drug and alcohol testing safety-sensitive employees during the pandemic. The DOT announced this week that the guidelines remain effective through June 30, 2021.
Updates announced on April 4th added instruction for Substance Abuse Professionals (SAP) in regard to performing remote evaluations. It addressed the re-qualification timelines for collectors, Medical Review Officers (MRO), Screening Test Technicians (STT) and Breath Alcohol Technicians (BAT), and SAPs as well.
The department issued three previous extension dates for following the guidelines in April, June, and September. The number of COVID-19 cases is increasing nationwide causing the DOT to extend them again.
Running over the rules
The transportation industry continues to play a vital role during the pandemic. And, maintaining safety on our nation’s roadways remains the DOT’s primary concern. Still, the DOT decided that there should be some flexibility in regard to employee drug testing right now.
In following the guidelines, employers are able to conduct their operations safely and efficiently during this ongoing national emergency.
With the talk of further lockdowns looming on the horizon, the DOT continues to recognize that not all employers will have access to program resources as in the past
- Collection sites
- Breath Alcohol Technicians
- Medical Review Officers
- Substance Abuse Professionals
- Make a reasonable effort to locate the necessary resources. If unable to locate a fixed-site collection facility, contact a mobile collection service.
- If facilities in your area are closed due to facility closures, lack of COVID-19 related supplies, state or locally imposed quarantine requirements, or other impediments leaving you unable to conduct drug or alcohol testing during this time, document this fact. Note that when you postpone testing or training due to these reasons, you must follow the applicable modal regulations.
- The inability to implement pre-employment drug and alcohol testing due to the above reasons bars a prospective or current employee from performing any safety-sensitive functions. You also must refrain from hiring the individual.
- If an employee expresses health concerns during the outbreak, review the applicable DOT Agency requirements for testing to determine if flexibilities allow for collection and testing at a later date.
- Address employee health concerns by contacting the clinic or collection site to verify that necessary precautions are in place to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.
- Revisit your back-up plan ensuring it’s current and effective for the current outbreak conditions in your area. If necessary, contact your service agents regarding their availability and capability to support your DOT drug and alcohol testing program.
The guidelines instruct collectors, laboratories, MROs, BATs, or SAPs to provide services to DOT-regulated services if possible.
Concerns about contracting COVID-19 when testing or interacting with employees should be addressed following your company policy, directives from state or local officials, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, ODAPC issued guidelines for conducting remote evaluations and offers the following advice:
- The technology you use should permit a real-time two-way audio and visual communication and interaction between you and the employee.
- You should determine if the quality of the technology (e.g., speed of the internet connection, clarity of the display, the application being used, etc.) is sufficient for you to gather all the visual (e.g., non-verbal physical cues) and audible information you would normally observe in an in-person face-to-face interaction.
- You may only utilize the technology if your State-issued license authorizes you to do so and within the parameters of that authority.
Additionally, the guidelines state that service agents who perform remote evaluations during this time aren’t acting in non-compliance.
The DOT also noted that it may be difficult for service agents to complete refresher training during this time. If so, service agents won’t be penalized and may continue with their duties.
To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, employees should:
- Contact your medical provider if experiencing any COVID related symptoms. If advised to self-quarantine, contact your employer.
- If you have concerns about testing during the pandemic, discuss them with your employer.
- You should realize that it is your employer’s responsibility to evaluate the circumstances of a refusal to test and determine if it should be considered a refusal to test as per 49CFR40.355(i).