What Is The DOT Return To Duty Process?

What Is The DOT Return To Duty Process?


The DOT return-to-duty process is a series of steps that a safety-sensitive worker should follow after failing a drug test.

If you get yourself involved in drug abuse during your commercial driving career, you could be stalled from your safety-sensitive position. You may return to duty after undergoing the DOT return-to-duty process, including evaluation, education, drug testing, and continued monitoring.

Once you successfully clear all those steps, you will be eligible to take your position. Either you are returning to work for the same employer or not, the return-to-duty drug test is essential after a DOT failed drug test.

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DOT return-to-duty-overview

If you are a commercial driver or involved in any other safety-sensitive position, you might face random drug testing as per the guidelines of DOT ( Department of Transportation). If you fail your drug test, you might be fired from your position, and the employer may take away your drivers’ insurance. But you can redeem your job by going through the DOT return-to-duty process.

The DOT return-to-duty process also helps the employer ensure that the particular employee is eligible to take the safety-sensitive position.

Why Could a CDL Driver Need a DOT SAP Program?

The United States Department of Transportation recommends DOT drug testing for all employees involved in a safety-sensitive position to abide by the DOT drug and alcohol testing guidelines. The DOT SAP program is assigned to those employees who fail their drug test during random or post-accident drug testing.

Commercial vehicles are larger, and there are possibilities of getting crashed. If a commercial driver is under drugs, then there are higher chances of accidents that would be a threat not only for the driver but also for other passengers, employers, and the government. So, the DOT ensures all safety-sensitive employees take drug tests to reduce unnecessary accidents.

Apart from post-accident and pre-employment drug testing, DOT requires random drug testing for every employee who works in a safety-sensitive position. The random drug test involves the drug and alcohol testing done as per the guidelines of DOT. Some employees may never get tested, while others get tested multiple times during a year.

If a safety-sensitive employee fails a drug test or violates DOT's drug and alcohol policy, they will be asked to complete the DOT SAP return-to-duty program. The same applies if the employee refuses to take the drug and alcohol test.

DOT Violation Behaviors That Require Action

A commercial driver may be asked to go through the DOT return-to-duty process if the driver

  1. Fails the drug test conducted by the company
  2. Tested positive on alcohol test
  3.  Refuses the DOT drug or alcohol test
  4. Being found out tampering with the sample during the drug test.

The motor carrier should conduct a random or surprise drug test if he has suspicion of a driver. The driver may have to undergo a DOT return-to-duty process if the motor carrier.

  1. Knows that the driver has been using Schedule-1 drugs like MMJ, COC, AMP, etc.
  2. Drugs that may affect drivers’ ability to operate a CMV safely.

The driver may not run through the DOT return-to-duty process if the doctor has prescribed him to use the drugs while at work. The motor carrier should keep the history of the employee’s DOT return-to-duty process on track. That may help a new motor carrier to manage the process where his predecessor left off.

Steps involved in DOT return-to-duty process

There are some significant steps that a commercial driver who has failed their drug test has to follow to regain their lost position.

  1. Sap Evaluation
  2. Education or treatment
  3. Follow up evaluation
  4. DOT return-to-duty test
  5. Follow-up drug test.

Once the driver is found taking prohibited drugs or prescription drugs above the threshold, the employer should remove him or her from all safety-sensitive functions. The employer should immediately recommend a drug test to find out the drug abuse of that particular driver.

He should present the driver to the SAP (Substance Abuse Professional), who would undertake appropriate driver evaluation based on the DOT guidelines. The driver cannot refuse to take the drug test as this would paint him or her guilty.

SAP Evaluation:

Initially, the SAP runs a primary evaluation over the individual ( may not an employee as the employer may or may not have fired him), choose the appropriate plan and treatment method for the individual, and recommend a perfect service provider.

Who is an SAP?

SAP (Substance Abuse Professional) has specific knowledge of the treatment and diagnosis of drug and alcohol-related disorders. They may be licensed physicians, psychologists, drug and alcohol counselors, or social workers. They receive a certification as an SAP by passing the SAP test and meeting adequate requirements. The U.S. Department of Transportation conducts these tests to choose SAP.

Role of SAP

SAP plays a vital role in managing the employee (a commercial driver) who has failed a drug test and constructs a solid plan that the employee must follow and redirects to the treatment professional.

SAP is not a company or an individual and does not advocate for the employer or employee. They are responsible for protecting public safety by evaluating drug abusers and recommend an effective treatment and education plan. The roles include

  • Ensuring the individual completes the plan before resuming their safety-sensitive role.
  • Providing adequate education and treatment to the individual based on the principles of the DOT.

SAP Treatment/Education

According to DOT rule 49, the SAP is required to refer the employee to appropriate education and treatment. The treatment may include inpatient, or outpatient, or aftercare services.

SAP interacts with the employee who had failed the drug test and conduct a careful evaluation on that employee. Based on reviews, the SAP helps the employee through the DOT return-to-duty process by recommending the best treatment and education program.

The treatment would vary based on the drug levels in your body. The SAP recommends a treatment that is suitable for you based on the drug levels in your body. The SAP’s education program under the DOT return-to-duty process involves drug and alcohol education courses, self-help groups, recreation programs, community lectures, etc.

After successful completion of the treatment and education program,  SAP would conduct a follow-up evaluation as per the DOT return-to-duty process.

SAP Follow-up Evaluation

SAP follow-up evaluation is a significant process in the DOT return-to-duty process. It happens next to the employee's successful completion of the treatment and education plan. There is no particular time frame between the procedure, depending on completing the treatment and education plan.

SAP confirms the completion of the education and treatment as per the regulations prescribed and compiled by them and reports to the DER that the employee compiled to the DOT return-to-duty process. The DER uses the report to reinstate the employee back to the safety-sensitive position.

SAP has the right to conduct follow-up drug testing and continued treatment for employees if they deemed necessary. In that case, the employer should abide by the requirement and make sure the employee acts as per the regulations of SAP in the DOT return-to-duty process.

DOT return-to-duty Drug Testing

The SAP conducts follow-up drug and alcohol testing to ensure that the employee is free from drug abuse.  This drug testing for the DOT return-to-duty process happens right during the SAP follow-up evaluation.

The employee should have a drug threshold of about 0.02 on a drug and alcohol test to return to the safety-sensitive positions. The employer doesn’t need to re-hire the employee after clearing the DOT return-to-duty process.

Follow-up drug testing

Even after getting the employee status, the SAP would be monitoring your drug track by recommending follow-up drug tests on a periodical basis. This helps the SAP to ensure that the employee is following the SAP’s DOT return-to-duty process and guidelines effectively.

SAP conducts six follow-up drug testing within a year of the employee getting into the safety-sensitive position. The follow-up drug tests would be prioritized on the drug or alcohol where the employee failed the drug test initially.

It is the employer’s duty to keep track that the employee follows the drug-testing procedures as guided by SAP. If the employee fails any one of the follow-up drug tests, the employer should remove him/her from the safety-sensitive position and should ask the employee to go through the follow-up testing once again.

The Timeline For Return to Duty

Unfortunately, there is no prescribed or fixed deadline for the SAP to conduct the DOT SAP program. The program duration may vary from one employee to another. It is really up to the SAP, who may recommend different treatment plans to different employees, depending on the nature and the extent of the substance use problem.

Each SAP program is customized for the person going through the treatment, which may vary when estimating the length of the SAP’s DOT return-to-duty program. However, you should know that the DOT return-to-duty process is split into two major sections: the time to complete the treatment and education plan, and the time to finish the follow-up testing program.

If you are through inpatient treatment, it may take a matter of months to complete the process. If you are an out-patient, it may be a matter of weeks. Ultimately, you will have to handle with your substance abuse professional that you will be working with.

There might be a minimum of 6 follow-up drug and alcohol tests that may extend to 12 months. If you fail any of the follow-up drug tests, you will have to repeat from the initial one.

DOT return-to-duty process is conducted under direct observation. Make sure that you act professionally with your SAP as involving in shortcuts or bribing may lead to permanent rejection of your safety-sensitive position.

How Much Does DOT return-to-duty May Cost For An Employee?

SAP process involves several different evaluation methods and follow-up processes. There may be an initial SAP examination fee, fees for the treatment and education program, DOT return-to-duty drug testing, and follow-up process.

The SAP cost would not be the same for all employees as it may vary based on the treatment plan and education program you may get assigned for. The length of the follow-up testing program may vary on a range of months to years, and it is hard to predict the exact cost of the SAP program.

On average, the SAP evaluation process cost may vary between $300 to $700. SAP Follow-up drug tests may range between $30 to $60 each. The DOT requires the employee to pay for the DOT return-to-duty process.

FAQ about SAP evaluation and other methods (Source: FMCSA)

1. Do community lectures and SFG's qualify as SAP education and treatment?

SFGs and community lecture programs can be qualified as education, but DOT-SAP does not consider it as treatment. While self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) and Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) are significant to many employees' recovery processes, these efforts are not identified as treatment programs. However, they can serve as vital supplementary programs in support of treatment program efforts.

2. What kind of arrangement would be acceptable in geographical areas where no qualified SAP is readily available?

The employer should provide the driver with all the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the nearby SAPs. Because SAP evaluation done by a qualified SAP does not take more than one diagnostic session, the requirement for an in-person assessment is not unreasonable, even if it must be conducted some distance from the employee's home.

3. Do foreign motor carriers require an employee assistance program?

No. It does not require a foreign motor carrier to have an employee assistance program as it was a section of the FHWA drug testing program as per 49 CFR part 391, superseded - 49 CFR part 382.

Summing it up

DOT return-to-duty process is a long and expensive process that would temporarily limit the employee’s job and cause a ripple in the regular flow of commercial transportation for the employer. So, it is best for the employees of safety-sensitive positions to stay away from drugs. You can make sure you are drug-free by periodic home drug testing using urine drug testing kits, oral saliva drug testing kits, or hair follicle drug testing kits.

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