Last updated: February 24, 2020
While every employer is entitled to drug test employees, some employers are legally required to screen for a specific panel of drugs. Department of Transportation (DOT) drug testing is mandated for any employer governed by:
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
- Federal Transit Administration
- Federal Highway Administration
- Federal Aviation Administration
- Federal Railroad Administration
- United States Coast Guard
- Research and Special Project Administration
That means the following individuals and/or companies have to meet DOT testing rquirements:
- companies employing CDL drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles on public roads
- CDL-licensed individuals operating these vehicles on public roads
- Inter- and/or intrastate motor carriers
- drivers for certain civic organizations (disabled veteran transport, boy/girl scouts, etc.)
- drivers for faith-based organizations
(If you’re uncertain about whether you or your company falls under this umbrella, the Department of Transportation has provided an “Am I Covered?” tool for both employers and employees.)
Since both employers and employees should know what’s required and what to expect in terms of testing and what happens in case of a positive result, comprehensive, top-down training is a must.
Fortunately, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) offer some resources designed to help you. The “What Employees Need to Know about DOT Drug & Alcohol Testing” handbook, the “Be a Driver in the Know” brochure, and “Implementation Guidelines for Alcohol and Drug Regulations” (which also includes a chapter on training and education) are all valuable, but the best way to make sure your testing program meets the requirements properly is to employ a consultant. Equally as important as making sure to test for the right drugs is making sure you don’t test for ones that are not allowed and perform the tests using specific guidelines. A mobile drug testing company offering a consultation and helping plan from the outset is the best way to make sure you’re staying on the right side of the law.
As explained above, DOT drug testing is mandated for specific employers/employees. It’s also strictly regulated, from the testing schedule to the method used to which drug panels are included.
DOT testing should be conducted prior to hiring, randomly during employment, after an accident, upon reasonable suspicion of drug or alcohol abuse, upon return to duty, and on a follow-up basis, as needed. Urinalysis is the required test method, and if problems or questions arise at the collection site, the test has to be directly observed. A driver who refuses to test can’t operate a commercial vehicle on public roadways.
The testing panel is much narrower than panels available to employers for their own testing programs. The DOT requires testing for, and limits testing to, panels designed to identify the presence of:
- amphetamines and methamphetamines
- THC (marijuana)
- opiates (including codeine derivatives)
Once the urine has been tested, the analysis is sent on to a Medical Review Officer (MRO). If the results are positive, the MRO will check with the employee to rule out special circumstances that may have influenced the result. If there aren’t any, the MRO will notify the employer of the positive.
The driver is immediately banned from working on public roads and given a Substance Abuse Professional’s list of options, boxes to check off during the return-to-duty process. While completing that mandatory process, the driver may essentially be unemployed. If and when he/she does return to duty, at least six directly observed follow-up tests have to be done during the first 12 months. That’s in addition to random testing.
Finally, it has to be said: Employers can require their own drug testing, over and above DOT testing. That means they can test for a wider variety of drugs, including heroine, barbiturates, codeine, morphine, tranquilizers, and steroids. They can even specify the levels to test for.
But these non-DOT tests must be conducted separately—i.e., completely separate samples, separate procedures that are compliant with state and federal law, as spelled out by —as the Department of Labor and American with Disabilities Act. Furthermore, DOT testing has top priority. It has to be done before any other testing, and a positive result will stand, even if subsequent non-DOT testing comes up with a negative. Those requirements can’t be stressed strongly enough. When required to test according to DOT standards, it’s imperative to seek a consultant to look over the program, but as mentioned before, the best way is to get guidance throughout the process of planning and mobile drug testing companies should know DOT testing better than anyone else.
Employers or employees who still have questions about DOT drug testing will find a number of informative links (including videos) on the DOT/FMCSA web pages “Employers Resources and Downloads” and “Driver Resources and Downloads.”