Just entering the transportation industry or new to the drug/alcohol program manager DER position? This month, we bring you the conclusion of some best practices and warnings to help you with your DOT Random Drug and Alcohol Testing Program.
Last month, we talked about who needs to be tested and how to select random tests. This month, we look at how often to test, when to test, how to notify your employees to report to a test, and what to do if that employee cannot test due to availability.
As we talked about in Part 1, random testing is effective because of the random element. If your employees never know who could get tested when, the deterrence factor that your program brings to the table is heightened. While your employees know they can be tested, you never want them to know when they will be. If this happens, you could have a problem where someone may be using or abusing but just not when they will be tested. To avoid the possibility of employees finding ways around taking the test, follow these best practices:
- Spread testing dates throughout the year in a nonpredictable pattern
- If you are concerned that you might not meet your annual testing rate requirement, you can increase your testing but should avoid doing so, as this removes the element of surprise.
- Conduct random drug tests at varying times of the day.
- This means not testing at only the end or the beginning of shifts but testing at all times of the day.
- Conduct random alcohol tests just before, during or after the employee preforms a safety-sensitive job, as described in your industry-specific regulations.
Do not be predictable. You do not want employees aware that those on the “second shift of the last Friday of the month” will be tested, or other specificities like that.
One common question that arises is why an employee gets selected for testing more than once. The pool should be reset each testing period, so there is a high probability that some employees can be selected several times while others may never be selected. If this happens, this is simply the law of small numbers taking effect. This is no different than a baseball player hitting .500 for a month; more than likely, he is not a .500 career hitter but is simply above the statistical norm. The probability of an employee getting selected in one period is the same as getting selected in another period. These events should be truly independent, if your selection process is truly random.
Next, you will need to know how to notify an employee for a test. You will want to ensure that employees are discreetly notified, as you want to maintain the element of surprise for future tests. You will want to ensure that an employee receives no advanced notice of the selection. More likely than not, you will need to notify their superior so that they can schedule the administration of the test and ensure that the collection site is available for testing. However, you want to ensure this information does not leak out. Just as a warning, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) drug and alcohol testing regulation (14 CFR Part 120), an employer shall require that random testing is unannounced and each safety sensitive employee who is notified of selection for random drug testing is to proceed to the collection site immediately. The opportunity to report for testing does not exist while in flight, and the use of in-flight notification is considered advance notification and is not permitted under this regulation.
Once an employee is notified of a random test, they must immediately report to the collection site, meaning that after notification, all the employees’ actions must lead to an immediate specimen collection. This should be crystal clear. Your company should develop random testing procedures or policies that clearly state what activities are acceptable after notification; for instance, which safety-sensitive duties agency regulations allow them to complete. If an employee is notified of a random test while working “off site” or “on the road,” the company’s policies should spell out exactly what the employee must do before resuming safety-sensitive functions. You want there to be no potential for misunderstanding. You will also want to ensure that clear instruction has been provided to the employee so he or she knows what type of test must be administered and the collection method for that test. In general, drug tests are completed via a urine sample, whereas alcohol is tested either through breathalyzer or saliva swabbing. As a warning, if the collection site administers the wrong type of test, you, the employer, are in violation. You are responsible for all actions of your officials, representatives, and agents in carrying out the requirements of the DOT agency regulations.
From time to time, you may have an employee who is not available for some reason on the date and time of their random test. If this happens, you need to have a policy in place. If an employee selected for testing is known to be unavailable during the selection cycle (e.g., a legitimate extended absence, long-term illness, and so on), document the reason and make up the shortfall by selecting someone else or selecting extras for each selection cycle. You can also make up the deficit the next selection cycle. If an employee is selected for testing but doesn’t receive notice because he or she is off that day, test the employee on his or her next shift within the same selection cycle. No employee should be excused from testing because of operational difficulties. See your industry-specific regulations and interpretations for legitimate exceptions.
To view additional educational information, please visit the U.S. Department of Transportation.