Last updated: November 27, 2023
The Department of Transportation (DOT) released its original COVID-19 Drug & Alcohol Testing Statement of Enforcement Discretion for Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs) and Service Agents (SAs) on April 4, 2020. It’s been extended several times since. On November 29th, the Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC) announced the extension is getting pushed back again.
The statement provides guidance and information pertaining to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements for employers, their employees, and DOT service agents. It also provides supplemental information specific to performing remote evaluations. The statement outlines changes regarding the inclusion of remote assessments and evaluations by SAPs.
It also speaks to the re-qualification timelines for the following:
- Medical Review Officers (MROs)
- Screening Test Technicians (STTs)
- Breath Alcohol Technicians (BATs)
- Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs)
Changes to face-to-face evaluations
Under current DOT regulations, the SAP must conduct a face-to-face assessment and evaluation of an employee charged with a drug or alcohol violation. The in-person “face-to-face” assessment has always been an essential part of the SAP process.
However, in light of the ongoing pandemic, ODAPC recognizes that conducting these assessments and evaluations “face-to-face” may not be possible or advisable for certain individuals. Therefore, ODAPC is allowing SAPs to conduct a remote “face-to-face” evaluation and assessment while the temporary policy is in effect.
This latest extension runs through June 30, 2022.
SAPs are free to choose whether or not they will utilize the remote face-to-face evaluations and assessments. They can make that decision on a case-by-case basis. SAPs are free to conduct in-person face-to-face interviews whenever they feel more comfortable doing so.
Better safe than sorry
ODAPC stated that even though they realize that performing evaluations remotely may not provide as much information for the SAP as in-person face-to-face evaluations would, it believes a remote situation is preferable to not conducting the evaluations and assessments at all.
ODAPC hasn’t outlined a specific process for SAPs to follow during these remote assessments and evaluations, but SAPs who choose to conduct initial assessments and evaluations or follow up evaluations remotely are advised to consider the following parameters:
- The technology you use should permit 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.
SAPs who choose to conduct evaluations or assessments remotely won’t be in danger of obtaining a non-compliance violation for the purpose of starting a public interest exclusion proceeding against them while the COVID-19 Drug & Alcohol Testing Statement of Enforcement Discretion for SAPs and SAs is in effect.
Some SAs temporarily exempt
DOT regulations 49 CFR §§ 40.33(e), 40.121(d), 40.213(e), and 40.281(d) clearly state that collectors, MROs, STTs, BATs, and SAPs are required to maintain their DOT required qualifications if they plan to continue acting as SAs for the DOT drug and alcohol testing program.
The stipulations are as follows:
- Collectors, STTs, and BATs must complete refresher training every five years
- MROs must complete requalification training every five years
- SAPs must complete 12 professional development hours every three years
During the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis, it could be difficult to locate the necessary resources—such as an exam location, for instance—to meet their re-qualification requirements. If that is the case, the DOT won’t consider it a non-compliance for “purposes of starting a public interest exclusion proceeding against the service agent.”
The DOT provided the above-stated flexibility for SAs who can’t meet their re-qualification requirements due to restrictions imposed by Federal, State, and local authorities. Likewise, if a nearby health agency is closed in relation to the coronavirus, it won’t result in the SAP receiving a violation.
The DOT will consider these SAs qualified to continue in their role as long as the temporary policy is in effect.