Last updated: September 25, 2023
The Department of Transportation requires employers of the safety-sensitive workforce to adhere to strict regulations. For instance, anyone who wants to drive in the trucking industry must submit to a DOT drug screen as part of the hiring process. If you’re going to employ the general workforce, the decision as to whether or not you drug test your employees is up to you. A non-DOT drug screen looks for the same drugs, so is there any difference between them?
The answer is yes—the differences are subtle but they do exist.
Let’s compare and break it down.
DOT drug screen
The DOT drug screen contains five panels that can identify the five most commonly abused drugs in the workplace.
The DOT drug test follows standardized procedures put in place by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Until recently, the urine drug test was the only employee drug testing method accepted. That has changed. If an employer chooses to use a mouth swab, otherwise known as the oral fluid, drug test, they may do so after updating their policies and procedures to reflect the change. Drug tests are administered by federally certified technicians and the results are reviewed by a qualified Medical Review Officer (MRO).
Employers are free to test for other drugs, however, they may not have it added to the DOT test panel. Additional drug testing must be done with a completely separate test.
Reasons to test
Drug testing potential new hires and checking their past driving history for prior offenses isn’t the only time that drivers are asked to report for a drug screen. The DOT has other mandatory drug testing scenarios in place as well.
Post accident testing
Employers are required to perform a drug screen as soon as possible after an accident. The post accident drug test must be a blood test. The blood test has the ability to determine if someone is under the influence of drugs at the moment. It must be performed by medical personnel in a medical setting only. The test is very expensive.
Reasonable suspicion testing
If management personnel suspects that someone is showing signs of drug impairment in the workplace, they are instructed to document their suspicions before approaching the employee. When documentation is in place, management explains their reasoning to the employee and instructs them to report to the company’s testing site for a drug screen.
The DOT requires employers of the safety-sensitive workforce to schedule random testing throughout the year. The number of times that testing is required depends on the total number of employees in the company. All names are submitted into a pool and a pre-determined number of employees’ names are drawn. Those whose names are drawn must report for a drug test within a specific window of time.
Return to duty testing
If a driver tests positive for drugs, they are removed from service immediately. They must choose a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) for evaluation. After the meeting, the SAP creates a customized plan for the employee to complete. Upon completion of each step of the plan, the employee meets with the SAP again for a follow-up assessment.
If the employee meets all criteria, they are ready for the last step of the process which is a drug test. If it’s negative, the employee is cleared to return to work. Of course, this may or may not be with the company they worked for when testing positive for drugs. It’s all up to the employer.
Non-DOT drug screen
Employee drug testing was first introduced back in 1991 after the U.S. Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Act recognizing the need for a drug and alcohol-free transportation industry. It wasn’t long before employers of the general workforce began to recognize the value of employee drug testing. Many of them used the DOT guidelines as a basis for their own drug testing programs.
The Non DOT drug test contains the same test panels as the DOT drug test, with the exception of synthetic opioids. If an employer wants to use the Non-DOT test but wants to look for synthetic opioids, such as oxycodone, for instance, they just add it to the test panels. The same goes for any other type of drug that the employer wants to test for. The freedom to add as many panels to the test as necessary is one of the main differences in the DOT vs Non-DOT drug test.
Freedom to choose
Unlike the employers who are regulated by the DOT, employers of the general workforce may use any type of drug test they wish. Many are seeing the value of the hair follicle drug test as it affords them the ability to look back at the prior three months of someone’s life. The hair test records each and every time that someone uses drugs making it popular with employers looking for consistent drug use.
Most employers choose to mimic the DOT drug testing policy in the event of post-accident testing because the blood test determines current impairment. The information can assist investigators in determining who is responsible for the accident.
While some employers of the general workforce complete random drug testing throughout the year, most do not. However, reasonable suspicion drug testing policies are a different story. It’s important to recognize the signs of drug use and act on it! Then again, some employers only do pre-employment testing and are satisfied with that.
It’s important to learn what the drug testing laws are in your state. Some states don’t allow oral fluid or hair testing. Others limit employers in regard to testing for marijuana if the drug is legal in their state.
Different but trustworthy
Overall, we’ve determined that the non-DOT drug screen was put together for those employers who want to follow in the DOT’s footsteps. They pattern their drug-free policies after the department. It tests for the same drugs—with the exception of synthetic opioids added to the DOT test panel back in 2018. It’s no problem for employers to add the panel to their non-DOT test as well as any other drugs they want to look for.
Employers of the general workforce are free to abandon the DOT-type tests entirely and set up their own tests using the drug panels that are causing the most problems in their geographic location.
The drugs that you test for and the method used to look for them should be what best fits your company. Operating a drug-free workplace is one way to let potential new hires know that you don’t tolerate drug use. It’s a huge deterrent because most people who use drugs shy away from applying for a job if they have to pass a drug test to get it.
You’ll reap other benefits as well. Productivity goes up, absenteeism goes down, and there are fewer reported workplace accidents. Mostly though, your employees will realize that you have their best interests at heart and that speaks volumes in and of itself. They are far more likely to stay with the company for the long haul when they know that you care.