DOT Drug Testing 101
As part of the U.S.Department of Transportation’s (DOT) commitment to safety for workers and the general public, drug testing is required for what the department considers “safety-sensitive” employees. These employees work as part of the teams that provide transportation services in the air, on the roads, across the rails, and in the water – both overland and underground.
Current DOT drug testing practices are a result of the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act, which was Congress passed in 1991. The act required DOT agencies to implement comprehensive drug and alcohol testing for employees who conduct safety-sensitive duties. To comply with the act, the DOT’s Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC) established rules on how tests should be conducted as well as testing and reporting procedures.
Individual DOT agencies and the U.S. Coast Guard publish regulations specific to each industry covered by the DOT testing requirements. These regulations identify who is subject to testing, when they can/will be tested, and what situations may call for testing. However, the rules and procedures that were established by the ODAPC are followed consistently by all agencies. This makes testing simpler and uniform across the wide number of industries and agencies that fall under DOT drug testing requirements.
Who is Subject to DOT Drug Tests?
According to the DOT employee handbook on alcohol and drug testing procedures, the department’s goal is to “employ operators who are 100 percent drug- and alcohol-free.” However, operators aren’t the only DOT employees subject to drug testing requirements. Any position considered safety-sensitive falls under the testing requirements. The DOT looks at job duties, not just job titles, when determining whether a position qualifies as safety-sensitive.
Tasks such as driving a truck, working on a pipeline, repairing an airplane, or operating a ferry, bus, or train are considered safety-sensitive. In addition, employees like flight attendants and security guards are also subject to DOT drug testing. Any position that involves tasks that could impact the safety of transportation workers or passengers is included within the regulations.
What Substances Does DOT Test For?
DOT testing is conducted for both alcohol and drugs. The drugs that DOT tests look for include the following: Marijuana/THC Cocaine Amphetamines (including methamphetamine) Opiates (including heroin, codeine, and morphine) Phencyclidine (PCP)
According to numbers provided by the DOT, marijuana and amphetamines were the most commonly found substances as a result of DOT testing for commercial motor vehicle drivers in 2015. Overall, positive results remain low for commercial drivers. In 2015, just 1.85% of DOT test results were positive; however, that is still more than the DOT would like to see to ensure transportation safety across the country.
What Tests are Used for DOT Testing?
The DOT uses urine collection and testing exclusively for drug testing. Alcohol may be tested for using breath and saliva. All three testing methods used by the DOT are non-intrusive.
When are DOT Tests Conducted?
There are a number of situations when DOT employees may be subject to drug testing. The most common situations include pre-employment screening, reasonable cause, random tests, post-accident, return-to-duty testing, and follow-up tests.
All new hires for safety-sensitive positions must successfully complete a DOT drug screening. Alcohol testing is optional at the discretion of the employer. Before a new hire can begin performing any safety-sensitive functions, the employer needs to have a negative drug test result on file. The same testing requirements apply for employees starting a new safety-sensitive position or transferring to a different department.
If a supervisor suspects that an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol they may request a drug test. Tests will not be granted based on a hunch. The supervisor’s suspicion must be based on observed behavior that is typically associated with the influence of alcohol or drugs. Such behavior may include slurred speech or the scent or appearance of alcohol.
Random drug and alcohol tests may be conducted at any time; however, employers cannot subject an employee to a random drug test simply because they want to. The administration of random testing must be truly random, and each employee must have an equal chance of being selected.
What Conduct is Prohibited by DOT Regulations?
The overarching purpose of DOT drug testing requirements is to ensure that safety-sensitive employees do not use alcohol or illicit drugs while performing safety-sensitive functions. As part of that effort, some behavior is specifically prohibited. Safety-sensitive employees cannot report for duty or remain on duty under any of the circumstances detailed below.
Under the influence: Employees with a blood alcohol concentration of .04 or greater are not allowed to perform their duties. Most employees cannot use alcohol within four hours of reporting for service. For flight attendants and crew members, that is extended to eight hours. Drug use: Employees may not report for duty or stay on duty if they have used any controlled substance, specifically illicit drugs. Some controlled substances may be allowed if they are being used under the direction of a medical provider. Refusing a test:Employees that refuse to submit to a drug or alcohol test will be dismissed from duties. It is also prohibited to interfere with the testing process or with a collected specimen.
DOT drug and alcohol testing is a federal requirement that helps ensure the safety of thousands of workers and individuals across the country. Understanding the requirements and the process helps both employers and employees remain in compliance and keep each other safe.