What Happens If You Fail A USCG Drug Test?

What Happens If You Fail A USCG Drug Test?


In the United States, employment law dictates that employers should provide a "safe and healthy" working environment for their employees. Suppose an employee is found to use drugs at work or during work hours, and the employer could reasonably conclude that this drug usage has led to a safety risk for themselves or others, the employer may terminate the employee's contract with immediate effect. 

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has a zero-tolerance policy to drug use, even off-duty and away from the workplace. Anyone who uses drugs of any kind during their employment tenure with USCG will fail their drug test.

If an employee fails a drug test with the USCG, their employment may be terminated immediately, and they will have to face mandatory disciplinary action for violating federal laws. According to the research, nearly 4% of the United States Coast Guard's arrests in 2011 were for drug-related offenses. 

However, these figures were probably underestimated since most of the USCG's arrests were on-duty rather than off-duty. Because of this policy, employees subject to disciplinary action can contact their employer and ask to be dismissed from service if they fail their drug test.

Furthermore, the following article will discuss what would happen if one fails a drug test with the USCG and is dismissed from employment.

Table Of Contents:

What Is The US Coast Guard Drug Testing Policy?

USCG (United States Coast Guard) is a military service branch of the United States. They are also responsible for maritime law enforcement, maritime safety and security, protection of natural resources, and prevention of pollution in U.S. territorial waters. 

The Coast Guard consists of over 40,000 active personnel and is under the control of Homeland Security. The USCG drug and alcohol testing program aim to combat drug use, misuse, and abuse. 

The regulations regarding the drug testing program are based on the National Research Council, Institute of Medicine (IOM), and National Academy of Sciences. These findings state that drug use or misuse in the workplace is a severe threat to public health and can result in death, injuries, reduced productivity, contamination of products, theft, fires, and explosions. 

Moreover, these regulations are mandatory for all new employees applying to the USCG. The Coast Guard only hires drug-free applicants. They will not hire any applicant if they have a history of drug use or abuse, including using drugs that are not illegal under federal law for more than the past year. The USCG drug testing policy is strict, and anyone who takes drugs in any way while on duty with the USCG will be fired. 

The main goal of the USCG drug testing policy is to promote a clean, safe, and healthy work environment. However, as per the studies in the past few years, nearly 9% of the USCG personnel were arrested for violating federal laws. 

Out of these arrests, 4% were drug-related. The USCG has a zero-tolerance policy against drug use, which has led to nearly 1600 employees being dismissed from service in the last five years for their involvement with drugs.

What Must An Employer Know About The USCG's Policy On Drug Testing?

In the United States, all employers must provide a "safe and healthy" work environment for their employees. It is a legal requirement that prevents employers from hiring individuals who pose a danger to their workplace environment. 

All marine employers have to comply with this policy and have a drug-testing program to prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace. 

Starting with, the employers must have two primary service agents for drug testing: the SAMSHA accredited laboratory where the required chemical tests are done and the MRO (Medical Review Officer) qualified individual who receives the drug test results, analyzes the results and informs the employer of their conclusions. 

Employers must also inform the employees of their drug testing program and ensure that they are familiar with the type of drug tests they will be subjected to if they join. In addition, each marine employer should have a written drug testing policy and detail the policy in their employee handbook. 

The policy should broadly state the following:

  • The employers and the employees will be subjected to drug testing and whether they have to take any chemical tests.
  • The type of drug tests required and their frequency are based on the nature of their jobs.
  • The period after which an employee's drug test is conclusive and will have a negative impact on their employment status.
  • The consequences of violating the drug testing policy or violating the drug testing policy.
  • Whether a marine employer has to record any drug test administered and whether they have to keep a record of any employee who tests positive for drugs during their employment with them. 
  • The defensive measures that an employer can take if they suspect that one of their employees is using or abusing drugs.
  • The method of reporting their employees suspected of having a drug abuse problem or abusing drugs illegally. 
  • The details about the laboratory for conducting the chemical test and the MRO's (Medical Review Officer) contact information will contact them to update the results and conclusion of any drug tests performed.

Different Kinds Of Drug Tests Administered Under The USCG

There are five different types of drug tests administered under the USCG. These include pre-employment drug testing, random drug testing, post-accident drug testing, reasonable cause testing, and return to duty testing. 

All marine employers will have to ensure that they fully understand these tests before testing any employee. 

  • Pre-employment drug testing
  • The USCG requires employers to conduct this test before they hire an employee. An employer is about to hire an employee when they start their job; an employer will have to check for any drug use or abuse in the past year. 

    The company needs to do this so that they do not hire an employee who might be under the influence of drugs while working. Moreover, the company cannot put the employee in a safety-sensitive position until the pre-employment test results are received. 

  • Random drug testing 
  • Random drug tests will be done on all employees after an employer has a negative test result or a pre-employment test exemption. It applies to any employee over 21 years of age or under 21 working with the employer's vessels. 

    Additionally, each marine employer must ensure that the random drug testing is done at least once a year and can be performed any time between one to six months. The employer may not denote a specific period for random drug testing, and it can be unannounced.

  • Post-accident drug testing
  • The maritime industry accepts a certain level of risk as a part of its operations. Accidents do occur, and individual marines can be injured or killed. It can be due to a medical condition such as allergic reaction, physical injury, psychological shock, or even drug use. 

    The USCG accepts drug use as a reason for the accidents and will test the marine responsible for the accident. This drug testing policy is based on facts and circumstances of the accident itself and not just one individual's involvement in it. However, the testing is required following an accident if:

    • There are one or more marine casualties.
    • An injury to a crew member, passenger, or another person requires medical treatment beyond first aid.
    • The accident leads to over $100,000 worth of property damage or any injury resulting in loss of consciousness, a fractured bone, or any time-loss injury resulting in restricted duty for seven days or longer.

    Moreover, the marine employers may decide to require post-accident testing for a less serious incident, based on the facts and circumstances of the accident. The USCG drug testing policy allows for the testing of the individual responsible for an accident if the employer decides that there is a likelihood that they were under the influence of drugs.

  • Reasonable cause drug testing 
  • It is conducted when there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an individual has used or abused drugs. It is usually done after a supervisor has noticed any strange behavior or medical condition triggered by an employee accident or incident. 

    The employer will require the employee to take the drug test, and they are required to ensure that the drug test is completed within two hours of them being notified of their suspicion. However, no one can be forced to submit to a reasonable cause test. 

    Any refusal should be thoroughly documented and reported to the Coast Guard as appropriate. The report must also include the basis for reasonable suspicion. Reasonable cause drug testing is usually conducted only once, and if the test results are negative, there will be no further testing unless new information or evidence comes to light.

  • Return to duty drug testing
  • This type of test is required when an employee has had a positive drug test or a drug test violation while off duty. The marine employer is required to make sure that the employee who has been reported is given a reasonable period (between one and four weeks) to submit to a second drug test with the same drug in question. The USCG regulations allow for an exemption to the return to duty drug testing if:

    • The employee can prove that the original positive test came from an outside source or a false positive test.
    • The employee has attended a substance abuse professional (SAP), has completed the substance abuse treatment program, and can produce documentation that shows this.

    What Happens If The Employee Fails A Drug Test Under The USCG?

    The USCG will require the employer to take disciplinary action against the employee. Several things might happen depending on the severity of the violation. First, the crew member may be removed from their current assignment and sent to shore with no pay. 

    Next, the employer might provide the crew member with a substance abuse professional's (SAP) name and contact information. Additionally, suppose the crew member is the holder of a Coast Guard issued license or merchant mariner's document, the marine employer is required to report the positive test to the U.S. Coast Guard (Failure to report positive or non-negative test results may result in a civil penalty against the marine employer.) 

    The employee will be required to submit a second drug test with the same drug in question. If the second test is positive, the marine employer will have to take further disciplinary action against the employee. And finally, if the marine is found to be under the influence at work, they might lose their position permanently. 

    However, if an employee fails a random or a post-accident drug test, they have an opportunity to have a positive test result re-tested using a different methodology. If the second test is negative, the marine employer will claim that the employee was not under the influence of drugs when working, and no further action will be taken against the marine. A positive drug test results from a return to a duty drug test cannot be re-tested for any reason.

    What Happens If An Employee Refuses A Test?

    A refusal is handled similarly as a positive result. It means that the Coast Guard will seek the same sanctions against an employee who refuses a test as they would if they had been found to have been using drugs while at work. 

    The Coast Guard might initiate the Suspension and Revocation proceedings against the employee, seeking the revocation of the license or document. 

    However, the suspension of a license or a document is done at the discretion of the Coast Guard, while a revocation is done only at the discretion of the Commandant.

    Can An Employee Retest If They Fail A Drug Test Under USCG?

    Yes, an employee may be required to submit to a re-test if they failed an initial drug test due to a false-positive result. A second test will be conducted with the same drug in question, and the results will determine whether or not the employee can continue working. 

    If the test is negative, the employee will return to work with no further repercussions. However, there are certain situations in which re-test is possible, namely:

    • Suppose the employee is found to have a false-positive drug test. However, if the employee cannot produce sufficient evidence, it may be possible to have a second test tested. Additionally, the second drug test should be conducted by an independent lab, not by the same facility that did the original test. 
    • The employee has completed a substance abuse treatment program and signed documentation that shows that they completed this program.
    • An employee has provided a valid prescription for that drug and can provide proof of the same.
    • The employee must have only tested positive for a trace amount of the drug. It is considered insignificant according to the regulations set forth by the USCG and experts in drug testing policy.

     Furthermore, some situations in which re-test is not possible will include:

    • If the second test is positive.
    • If there has been a finding of impairment while working due to the drug use.
    • Suppose a post-accident test has been administered following USCG drug and alcohol testing regulations. It means that if an employee has been tested for drugs after the accident, the results cannot be re-tested and will not be overturned for any reason.
    • If the employee did not provide a valid prescription for that drug, or if the prescription has expired.
    • The employee can prove that they only tested positive due to a laboratory error.


    These rules and regulations have been developed to ensure that mariners are not operating a vessel under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There have been incidents in the past that have resulted from an employee's impairment caused by drugs or alcohol, and these regulations have been created to prevent future accidents. 

    The USCG drug and alcohol policy seems rather complex, but it has been developed over time to protect both a marine employer and its employees. Additionally, the positive test results may occur at any time, even during the very beginning of a mariner's career. 

    It is essential to remember that an employee can be terminated from the USCG for a positive drug test at any time.


    What type of drug test does the Coast Guard use?

    DOT 5 panel test is the test used by the Coast Guard. It is done to ensure that the numbers are high enough to detect if a mariner has taken drugs while at work or not.

    What is the acceptable threshold level in the Coast Guard drug and alcohol policy?

    The Coast Guard drug and alcohol policy states that the concentration level must be high enough to detect dangerous drugs. The rules require the concentration level to be higher than 0.0012%.

    What policy is used to determine the acceptable threshold level in the Coast Guard drug and alcohol policy?

    The Coast Guard threshold level has been established based on the most recent available research and technology study. They have also considered the effects of various drugs on one's ability to work and react appropriately to certain situations. 

    The Coast Guard drug and alcohol policy has also considered how long it takes for dangerous drugs to leave an individual's system.

    Which drugs are being tested for in the Coast Guard drug and alcohol policy?

    Currently, the following drugs are being tested for:

    • Cocaine
    • Heroin
    • MMJ
    • Methamphetamine (also known as Ice)
    • Opioids such as Fentanyl, Hydrocodone and Oxycodone
    • THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) *the federal policy does not apply to those under 16.

    Older Post Newer Post