Last updated: September 25, 2023
The Department of Transportation (DOT) came into being to see to it that the country’s roads and highways are safe for the general public. Its misssion entails mandating employers of the safety-sensitive workforce at every level of operation. Drug testing employees who come into contact with the public out on the road is part of the process. Currently, employers use a 5 panel urine drug test aptly named the DOT drug test.
It differs from the average 5 panel drug test used by the majority of companies employing the general workforce though. Still, both tests determine if someone has the following drugs in their system:
- Amphetamines and methamphetamines
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
- THC—found in marijuana and in cannabidiol (CBD) products
The main difference here is that while employers mandated by the DOT must test for these types of drugs, employers of the general workforce are free to speak to their drug testing representative and have any of the panels removed or replaced with other panels, such as specific drugs that are currently ravaging their areas of the country.
There are other differences, as well.
Defining a DOT drug test
The DOT drug test is done under the authority of the department and performed on a DOT-regulated employee, meaning the person is specifically employed as a safety-sensitive employee.
That said, the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Association (FMCSA) defines a safety-sensitive position as pertaining to all drivers “who operate a commercial motor vehicle in commerce in any State.” These drivers must carry a commercial driver’s license (CDL) from the state in which they reside and adhere to DOT specifications—or the Mexican or Canadian equivalent.
There are several scenarios in which DOT drug testing takes place and they are:
- Randomly throughout the year
- Reasonable suspicion
- Follow-up, otherwise known as probationary
Any violations are to be reported to the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse within an allotted time frame. Drivers who receive violations must successfully complete the return-to-duty process before getting behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle again. However, whether or not the driver returns to work for the same employer where they received the violation is strictly determined by the employer.
The DOT has a strict set of rules and regulations in regard to how the test is administered that must be followed to the letter.
The DOT published a final ruling approving the use of the oral fluid drug test in May of this year. Up to that point, the urine drug was the mandated test form. It was exciting news for many employers who plan to incorporate the test into their drug testing policies. However, employers can’t actually use the test until there are two SAMHSA-approved laboratories.
Currently, that number stands at zero so using the test is on hold. Now that approval is final, however, experts predict that we will hear of laboratory certification near the end of 2023 or early in 2024.
Non-DOT drug tests
As mentioned above, employers of the general workforce aren’t required to test for the same types of drugs that the DOT mandates for the safety-sensitive workforce. Nor are they limited to a 5 panel drug test. Drug testing companies offer standard 10 panel and 12 panel drug tests as well. Employers are free to mix and match the drug panels as they choose.
Individual states may or may not have drug testing requirements in place. Some states have set up a drug-free workplace protocol that may include perks for employers who choose to take part. One such advantage is seeing savings in their workers’ compensation premiums. Not all states that have drug-free workplace guidelines established offer this savings program though.
Some states bar the use of oral fluid or hair drug tests as well. Other than that, few have guidelines that target drug testing administration. It’s also important to note, that the cut-off levels may differ from DOT drug tests. There isn’t a set standard so each company sets its own, individual cut-off level.
If you’re going to start drug testing employees, you want to ensure you’ve dotted every “i” and crossed every “t.” It helps eliminate the risk of being drug into court at some point due to a disgruntled past employee who wants to cause trouble.
It’s wise to have an expert look over drug laws in your state before writing drug testing policies and procedures. As a matter of fact, if you’re considering having a drug testing company—such as ours for instance—oversee your program, they will probably help you write your policies and procedures upon request.
No matter who you employ
Whether you are a mandated employer or a free agent, choosing to drug test your employees is smart. It helps you ensure that you provide the safest possible work environment for your employees and anyone else who may come into contact with them throughout the work day. No one deserves to have their life cut short or drastically changed forever due to an accident caused by someone who is under the influence of drugs.
Drug testing improves overall work culture too because your employees feel more secure in the workplace. That has a ripple effect of positivity that touches every aspect of your company.
No matter who you employ.