Last updated: January 18, 2021
The FMCSA Clearinghouse training session in Atlanta, Georgia provided employers and others in attendance with information regarding the resolutions to site issues users have experienced to-date. They’ve included the inability to access the site, time-outs, and the site sometimes crashed completely. The discussion addressed on-going problems too.
We’re sharing what we know so far.
A rocky start
It was announced at the Georgia training session that the system is up and running. And, since opening day, January 6, 2020, it reports the following:
- There have been over 400,000 registrations since opening day.
- More than 6000 queries have been performed since January 6th.
- Violations are being reported successfully.
Users began experiencing the problems we noted above on the Clearinghouse’s first official day of business. The FMCSA was quick to respond to the issue with a Plan B.
The FMCSA instructed employers to follow the hiring process in place prior to January 6th. After reaching out to previous employers to inquire about drug or alcohol violations, the driver could hit the road in the interim. If employers receive notification of a violation, they immediately remove the driver from service. They can’t work anywhere until they complete the return to duty process.
Getting in the groove
Now that the system is functioning properly—for the most part—employers need to play a little catch-up. If you attempted to query drivers but couldn’t, you need to do so now—even if they’ve been cleared by previous employers.
You also need to enter any violations that have been discovered since January 6th. The fact that they’re late won’t have a negative impact on your company, MRO’s, or TPA’s.
There still might be a problem when trying to access your DOT portal account to link to the Clearinghouse database. If the DOT portal website is down, register at the Clearinghouse anyway. You will be able to note that you have a DOT number. FMCSA plans to link the two accounts at a later date. However, it’s not clear at this point whose responsibility that will be—yours or theirs.
Keeping them separated
Employers can’t select an MRO when registering at the Clearinghouse. MRO’s are able to freely report violations to the Clearinghouse independent of company affiliation. C/TPA’s, on the other hand, must be linked to an employer in order to report violations.
Moreover, drivers and their employers aren’t linked on the site. The driver is registered by their CDL number. This way, employers aren’t burdened with continually updating a driver’s list.
Still a few wrenches in the works
It’s not smooth sailing from here just yet though. The FMCSA is working diligently to get the remaining issues resolved. They also plan to address those already discovered that link to the reporting process.
The FMCSA resolved most of the issues revolving around CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) validation. However, both North Carolina and Florida still have some problems. If you have issues with seeing consent requests have your driver confirm that their CDL number is validated.
If a driver receives a violation and reports to the SAP, the return to duty drug test may have them back at work. However, that doesn’t mean the process has been completed. If the SAP hasn’t reported the completion date, odds are that the driver still has drug testing to complete before the violation issue is completely resolved.
An employer that hires the driver in the interim must request the SAP report and follow up annually to make sure they remain in compliance regarding further return-to-duty testing. For example, an employee may have returned to work, but has 5 more drug tests to complete over an extended period. If the driver changes jobs, the new employer becomes responsible for adopting the remaining terms necessary to finalize the return-to-duty process.
A driver that fails to follow through with RTD testing isn’t eligible to get on the road. Ultimately, though, the responsibility to see that the driver complies falls on the employer.
Issues with mail notification
When drivers register with the FMCSA Clearinghouse, they sign up to receive notifications by email or U.S. mail. Pre-employment queries are submitted electronically. However, if the employer receives notification that there is information pertaining to a drug or alcohol violation on file, the Clearinghouse sends out the consent for a full query by the means the driver listed on their account.
If they registered to receive notifications by U.S. Mail, they aren’t likely to receive notification within the employer’s 24-hour time limit to submit the full query. Furthermore, employers don’t know which method of notification that the driver has chosen. That said, they should never assume that the driver will contact them to give full query consent.
Employers need to be pro-active and reach out to drivers to ensure they’re aware that they must consent to the full query before the time limit expires. If they don’t and the time limit expires while the driver is on the road, they have to pull them off the job wherever they are until the issue is resolved.
Also notable, if the driver isn’t pre-registered in the Clearinghouse database, employers can only send one request. A plan is in the works to implement text messaging to streamline this communication process.
Some small business owners might want to cheat
If the C/TPA doesn’t have consent to report for the employer, it gives employers an opportunity to “bend the rules.” Small business owners might be more likely to do this, for instance, if the employee in question is their best driver.
Let’s say that the C/TPA arranges for an employee to report for a test, or in USAMDT’s case, to meet up with our technician at a designated location along their route. The employee agreed to appear, however, they don’t show up. Instead, minutes later, the employee calls to report a “family emergency” keeping them from the appointment.
If the C/TPA isn’t a designated reporter for the company, they are unable to report a failure to test. The employer could choose to accept the employee’s excuse and not report the issue to the Clearinghouse.
Even though it’s more than likely an attempt to stall, C/TPA’s have no course of action.
The Q&A session brought these concerns to light. There needs to be a way to report violations that employers want to ignore.
Keeping the roadways as safe as possible
There have been updates made to the National Consumer Complaint Database (NCCDB). It was created by the FMCSA as part of its commitment to ensuring safety on America’s roadways. The database registers complaints made against companies and drivers when someone is subjected to unsafe or unfair operating practices. The FMCSA uses this information to decide which companies to investigate.
You file complaints by accessing one of these three categories.
Staying on top of things
The FMCSA Clearinghouse worked through the initial problems and has things up and running now. Furthermore, they’re working to resolve the issues that are still causing problems for some when accessing the site.
Things are beginning to hum along in the Clearinghouse, but there may be more information to report along the way.
We’ll keep you posted.