Last updated: July 19, 2021
For employers not bound by Department of Transportation regulations, a non-DOT drug test can be used to ensure a safe workplace. This could include any method, including urine, mouth swab, or hair, and any drug panel, including 5 panel, 9 panel, 10 panel, and even 12 panel.
All employers want a safe work environment. First and foremost, for the benefit of each and every employee, but the welfare of the company as a whole plays into the equation as well. From the start of each employee’s workday to purchased product or service completed, it is important that any and everyone coming into contact with your business in any way has a positive experience from beginning to end.
One way employers ensure that their workplace is as safe as it can possibly be is by having a drug testing policy in place.
The DOT drug test
Company drug testing programs didn’t begin to become popular until after Congress passed the Drug-Free Workplace Act in 1988 creating the framework to reduce drug use in the workplace. The DOT (Department of Transportation) soon followed suit. The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act passed in 1991 requiring all those employed in the safety-sensitive workforce to submit to company drug tests.
Companies regulated by the DOT (Department of Transportation) must drug test employees both before hire and at random intervals thereafter. The safety-sensitive workforce comes in contact with the public by way of some form of transportation. Whether it’s on the roads we drive, rails we ride, ships we sail, or our airline of choice, employees that assist us to our destinations—or share the space with us by any means—have federal rules and regulations they must follow.
Currently, the DOT drug test consists of a urine test. However, it may not always be the case, both the mouth swab and hair follicle drug tests are contenders it seems. The HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) released guidelines and has approved the use of oral fluid drug tests for federally regulated employees. It becomes effective in January 2020.
It could be that the DOT will decide to adopt oral fluid testing as an alternative to the mouth swab test. Furthermore, a request to replace the urine test with the hair follicle drug test is currently cycling through the chain-of-command.
The mandated test panel has always included amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, and PCP. In an effort to combat the opioid crisis that’s gripping our nation, it extended the opiate test panel in January 2018. The test now identifies four synthetic opioids.
What is the non-DOT drug test?
The safety-sensitive realm of business and industry has been federally regulated to drug test employees. What about every other type of business though? Employers within every industry realize the importance of a drug-free workplace. In addition to safety issues and considering the well being of all from employee to consumer, having drug testing policies and procedures established can help protect you from legal claims of poor product performance, harassment or discrimination.
Employers of the general workforce are free to choose the particulars of what rules and regulations they establish in regard to employee drug testing. The drugs they test for, how often, and what happens in the event that an employee tests positive are all decisions that are made in-house.
Many employers pattern their own drug testing policies after those of the DOT. You can even ask for the “DOT-like” drug panel if you want to use their test panel for your company. However, some employers choose to set a very strict policy. They test for all the drugs known to plague the workforce today.
Of course, the decision to create a more lenient policy is also an option.
In states where marijuana has been legalized the decision to remove it from drug tests is a choice that some employers are making. On the other hand, others choose to continue to test for THC even though advocates of the drug think it shouldn’t be allowed.
Currently, the federal government considers marijuana to be an illegal drug. It’s classed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. As long as that’s the case, employers have every right to keep marijuana on their company drug test.
However, some employers fear they may be losing ground on the issue. Both New York City and the State of Nevada have laws going into effect in 2020 that ban employers from including marijuana on their pre-employment drug tests. Thankfully, they left carve-outs pertaining to some specific positions, such as EMT professionals and firefighters. Moreover, employers are urged to look over all of the company job descriptions.
Safety in the workplace is an issue of concern at all levels. Rewording your job descriptions to specify safety issues may allow for continued testing.
Lastly, if the STATES Act passes, the federal government will remove marijuana’s Schedule 1 classification. This will leave legislation of the drug at the state level. With no uniform laws to govern them, employers who have a multi-state operation will have a hard time trying to enforce a uniform drug testing policy for all employees.
And, that may be the least of their headaches!
Looking for a resolution
A test for current impairment could alleviate a lot of the confusion where marijuana drug-testing laws are concerned. Alcohol, too, is a legal drug but it’s widely understood that using at work is forbidden. If an employee is suspected of inebriation at work, a reasonable suspicion test will prove it. Likewise, if marijuana breathalyzers become a reality, whether or not someone smoked last week and then tested positive for a drug test today will no longer be an issue.
Studies show that marijuana is detected on the breath about the same amount of time that one is impaired by its use. Several companies are working furiously to get a marijuana breathalyzer on the market. They say it won’t be much longer…
We predict that it will fly off the shelves as soon as it’s available.
Whether it’s regarding changing marijuana laws or not, it’s wise to have a professional look over your policies. They’ll be familiar with the drug testing laws in your state and assure you’re in compliance with them.
Reasons for drug testing
Some employers require employees to take a drug test as a prerequisite to starting a job with the company. Then, as long as they don’t give cause for reasonable suspicion, they are never asked to take another. Some companies implement random drug testing policies. Others require an annual drug test when an employee completes the required company physical.
Employers regulated by the DOT or other federal entities have the following drug testing procedures in place, meanwhile, employers of the general workforce may use any or all of them.
- Pre-employment drug test
- Random drug test
- Post-accident drug test
- Reasonable suspicion drug test
- Return-to-duty drug test
- Probationary drug test
What types of test methods are there?
While blood tests are available, employers rarely use them for employee drug testing. They’re expensive, extremely intrusive, and offer a very short window of detection due to the fact they identify the parent drug whether than its metabolites. However, employers and workers’ comp often utilize the blood test in post-accident situations. Knowing whether or not drugs were involved benefits investigators who are looking to discover the cause.
There are three prime drug testing methods used for an employee drug test.
Urine drug test
The urine drug test is cost-effective and accurate. It’s by far the most used both for employee and pre-employment drug testing. If you’re into statistics, over 90% or the 55 million or so drug tests submitted each year are the urine test.
Believe it or not, it’s so commonly used that there is actually a comfort level associated with this test. It’s because employees have come to expect the urine test when learning they’ll be taking a drug test.
The window of detection is drug-specific. It varies from a few days up to a few weeks depending on the drug itself. Marijuana, however, is the exception to the rule. Chronic or heavy users may test positive for the drug for over 30 days after discontinuing use!
Those cheaters, though
The drawback is that because the test requires privacy, it’s possible for cheaters to substitute or adulterate the sample before returning it to the collection specialist. This factor is one of the reasons that the HHS has approved using the mouth swab test as an alternative testing method for federal entities who choose to use it.
We’ll note though those products claiming to detoxify the system don’t work. Neither does drinking vinegar, taking Goldenseal root, or any of the other myths floating around on the internet. Furthermore, those that try flushing the system by drinking lots and lots of water prior to the test will more than likely do nothing more than earn themselves an inconclusive test result.
Specimens that contain more than the normal amount of water throw the creatinine levels in the urine out of balance. This alerts lab technicians to the fact that the urine sample is diluted.
There are two diluted test results.
- A positive dilute result indicates both too much water in the sample and drug identification.
- A negative dilute result indicates too much water in the urine but no drug detection.
Employers using the urine drug test receive results in less than a week.
Mouth swab drug test
The mouth swab test is certainly less invasive than the urine test but is more costly. That coupled with the fact that the test only identifies drugs ingested up to 72 hours prior to the test makes it a much less popular testing method.
However, recent advances in the drug testing technology used for the mouth swab test have made it a much more reliable test for detecting current impairment (with some drugs) and recent drug use. They’re becoming more widely used for random or post-accident testing. In fact, more law enforcement agencies across the country are using them for routine traffic stops or post-accident situations when suspecting drug impairment.
A mouth swab placed between the lower cheek and gum of the test subject remains until saturated. The test requires no privacy so it’s impossible to substitute or tamper with the test sample.
Employers receive the results of this test in just a few days.
Hair follicle drug test
Although it’s currently the most expensive of the three testing methods, the hair follicle drug test identifies any and all drugs in the system for a period of three months! The extended detection period outweighs the added expense for employers who use this test. Another appealing factor is the fact that the test requires no privacy and is over in a flash. The collection specialist uses scissors and merely snips a small cluster of hair as close to the scalp as possible.
There are some employers in the trucking industry that require their employees to take the DOT drug test and the hair follicle test as well! Needless to say, the industry is fully behind the DOT’s request to begin using the hair follicle test rather than the urine drug test.
Drug metabolites are stored throughout the body awaiting excretion. Some find their way into the hair shafts. It takes a couple of days before the metabolites exit the body by growing out into the hair shaft itself. This leaves a permanent record of drug use.
Shampoos or homemade concoctions claiming to strip drug metabolites from the hair are no more than myths. The metabolites are located in the center of the hair shaft so they’re not going anywhere.
Employers receive results of the hair follicle test in about a week.
No matter which test method an employer uses, the samples first go through an initial screen. The immunoassay (IA) test is cost-effective and yields a positive or negative result. Since the vast majority of drug tests are negative it saves employers the expense of the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) test.
Only specimens yielding a positive result go on for the GC/MS test. It not only confirms the IA test but identifies the drug and the level contained in the test sample.
USA Mobile Drug Testing uses only SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) certified laboratories. These laboratories are held to the highest standards and undergo frequent inspections to retain certification.
No matter which test method you choose for your non-DOT drug test, the results are read uniformly.
- Positive—indicates drug use
- Negative—no drugs detected
- Inconclusive—neither a positive nor a negative result determined
Inconclusive results are rare in regard to the hair follicle and mouth swab tests, however, human error on the part of the collection specialist or a lab technician is a possibility. The urine test yields the most inconclusive results. Again, these samples are the ones most likely to be adulterated, substituted, or tampered with in some way.
What drugs can be detected?
USA Mobile Drug Testing offers our customers a number of standard test panels for their convenience. In addition to the DOT-like test panel, we offer a 5, 9, 10 and 12 panel drug test. These tests identify all manner of drugs used in the workplace.
You can list specific drugs to include on your drug screen panel or, for example, add testing for expanded opiates to a ready-made panel. You could also remove a drug from the panel and replace it with something else. If you would like this option, your representative can assist you in making your list and relaying the information to the laboratory.
Many employers choose to use one of several ready-made panels using one of the three testing methods above. We’ll note though that manufacturers aren’t required to provide industry-wide standard panels. Each manufacturer determines the drugs included in their standardized tests.
USA Mobile Drug Testing’s standard panels include the following:
5 Panel drug test
- Marijuana (THC)
- PCP (Phencyclidine)
9 Panel drug test
- Marijuana (THC)
- PCP (Phencyclidine)
10 Panel drug test
- Marijuana (THC)
- PCP (Phencyclidine)
12 Panel drug test
- PCP (Phencyclidine)
- Expanded Opiates
The test for amphetamines includes detecting methamphetamines and Ecstasy/MDMA. The opiate test includes the detection of heroin, codeine, and morphine. However, you’ll need to add the extended opiate panel if you want to identify the four synthetic painkillers added by the DOT in January 2018.
From the 5 panel test to the 12 panel, the range of drug testing that you determine is right for your company is easily accessible. You just need to make a phone call to get things going. You can even contact a compliance specialist online and they’ll contact you to answer any questions you have or schedule an appointment to meet with you.
Where to start
From establishing procedures to maintaining paperwork and equipping your staff with the knowledge they need, many employers seek outside assistance from a compliance specialist. If you are unsure where to begin, we can help!
As an employer, you know that providing your employees with the safest work environment possible all day every day is the right thing to do for many reasons. Enforcing a drug-free workplace is a huge step in accomplishing that goal.
The peace of mind it affords to all is a fringe benefit that may manifest in the days and years to come by way of company loyalty.
Does USA Mobile Drug Testing have a drug-free plan for all employers or just those regulated by the DOT?
We offer customized drug testing programs for all employers. We’ll gladly handle your program leaving you free to handle other aspects of the business.
Will the DOT be allowing the mouth swab alternative to drug testing?
The answer to that question isn’t certain at the moment. The Health and Human Services Administration approved the alternative method for use by all federal entities. However, the DOT has yet to make the decision whether or not it will be one of them.
What’s going to happen if the STATES Act passes and the government removes the Schedule 1 classification?
It will be left to the individual states to determine that. It’s wise for employers to voice their concerns to state and local government. And, hope that the marijuana breathalyzer hits the market! That should help to simplify things for employers.
Does USAMDT really roll out for the night shift?
Yes, indeed. Our mobile units show up when and where you want us too. They won’t have to interrupt their sleep patterns to show up at a test site during normal business hours.
I’m a small business owner and only have 9 employees but crystal meth and oxy’s are rampant around here. I’m thinking about putting a drug-free policy in place. Can I use an over the counter instant result test?
Yes, you certainly can, however, we want to make sure you’re aware that if a test result reads positive, you need to have it confirmed by a laboratory before following through with your plan of action. Oh, and don’t perform any drug tests until you have written policies and procedures in place.
If you have any other questions, you should get in touch. We’ll be glad to help you get everything figured out. We even offer employee education classes emphasizing the perils of drug use that could prevent someone from ever using drugs. Or, they could be the cause for someone who is using to seek help.
I’ve heard that the hair test can detect drug use for even longer than a 90-day period. Is that true?
Yes, it is. The length of the hair determines the length of the identification period. The standard test length is one and one-half inches and human hair grows about half an inch per month. So, the detection period increases by 30 days with every half-inch added to the test length.