When a safety sensitive worker has a positive drug test and/or positive alcohol test, the employee is required to go through the return to duty (RTD) process.
It is important to note that a refusal to test, failing to provide a sufficient sample for testing or even a failure to appear for a test (excluding pre-employment testing) also results in a positive test violation.
Once a safety sensitive worker fails a test, the employer must immediately remove the employee from all safety-sensitive functions and the employee is required to successfully complete the RTD process in order to regain eligibility to return to safety-sensitive duty with their current or any future employer.
Steps in the RTD Process
Step 1: Initial SAP Evaluation
In the first step, the worker schedules an assessment or evaluation with a substance abuse professional (SAP). From this evaluation, the SAP determines appropriate education or treatment for the individual and creates a plan. Then, the SAP refers the individual to the providers of the services laid out in the plan.
Once the initial evaluation is completed the SAP notifies the DER of the date of the evaluation and the recommended course of action. For U.S. DOT workers, immediately after the session the SAP enters date the session was completed into the FMCSA Clearinghouse.
No Predetermined Outcomes
Every individual is unique. We believe the purpose of an assessment is to determine if your alcohol and drug use is a problem, and if so, what kind of help would be beneficial. For some individuals early intervention (education) is all that’s necessary, for others counselling or treatment.
Since all decisions are based on the results of the assessment it is not possible to pre-determine an outcome or a Return-to-Duty timeframe for any worker.
Step 2: Education/Treatment
Each worker who goes through the RTD process is required to attend educational and/or treatment programs. The costs, if any, associated with the recommendations are in addition to the assessment fee.
The role of the the SAP is to determine which course of action the worker needs to complete. The SAP does not provide the prescribed education, counselling or treatment. An SAP only determines the necessary course of action and refers to worker to resources that can help you fulfill the proscribe course of action.
Please note – if the individual hopes to return to safety-sensitive work they must successfully complete the course of action as prescribed by the SAP.
Step 3: Follow-Up SAP Evaluation
There is no specific time frame laid out in the regulations for when the follow-up assessment should occur. The amount of time between initial and follow-up evaluations depends on the recommendations, how soon, and how successfully the worker completes the prescribed course of action.
Once the SAP receives verification the prescribed course of action has been completed, the worker and SAP meet again. The purpose of this meeting is to evaluate the workers progress towards returning to safety sensitive duty.
On a case-by-case basis, the SAP may require alcohol/drug testing to verify compliance with the recommendations.
After the follow-up evaluation is completed and the SAP determines the worker is ready to return to safety-sensitive duty, the SAP determines a follow-up testing schedule. The SAP then reports the workers successful completion along with the follow-up testing schedule to the DER. Depending on company policies the DER can use this report as grounds for re-instating the individual. For U.S. DOT workers, the SAP notifies the FMCSA Clearinghouse the worker is eligible for their Return to Duty test.
Step 4: Return-to-Duty Testing
This test is scheduled by the employer. Return to Duty tests can only be ordered by the employer. Any other testing doesn’t qualify as a Return to Duty test.
The DER must wait for the go-ahead in the SAP report before sending the worker for the return-to-duty drug and/or alcohol test. The motor carrier must report a negative return-to-duty test to the Clearinghouse in order for the “prohibited” status to be lifted from the driver’s record.
The SAP determines whether the individual must take a RTD test for drugs, alcohol, or both. They base this decision on their evaluations with the individual.
The worker’s final eligibility status is contingent upon producing a negative return-to-duty test. If the Return to Duty test is positive that is a new DOT violation and requires the driver to restart the entire Return-to-Duty process.
Step 5: Follow-Up Testing/Continued Treatment
After passing a return-to-duty test, the individual may return to safety-sensitive functions.
As previously mentioned, the SAP creates a follow-up testing plan for the worker to follow. The follow-up testing plan is not divulged to the worker.
The employer is responsible for making sure that the worker follows this plan and updating the FMCSA Clearinghouse. However, the employer cannot impose additional testing on the employee beyond the SAP’s plan. Also, all follow-up tests are unannounced and without any discernible pattern. If the worker fails any follow-up test, the worker must be removed from safety-sensitive work and start the return-to-duty process over again.
And one final point:
Other tests can not substitute as follow-up tests. For example, if an employee is selected for a random test, it cannot count as a follow-up test. Post-incident, pre-employment and reasonable suspicion tests can not be considered as follow-up tests.
The follow-up testing plan is separate from all other testing programs (i.e. your company’s DOT drug and alcohol testing program).