CDL Clearinghouse Highlights Need for Employers and Drivers to Understand the DOT SAP and Return to Duty Process
Written By Lucas Kibby, CleanFleet
In just two months, the CDL Clearinghouse caught 11,000 drivers with a positive or refusal drug test. With the Clearinghouse tracking drug testing violations more closely and publicly, there is an increase need for employers and drivers to understand the SAP and Return-to-Duty process.
The “SAP” or Substance Abuse Professional is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.
The SAP represent the major decision point (and in some cases the only decision point) an employer may have in choosing whether or not to place an employee behind the steering wheel of a school bus, in the cockpit of a plane, at the helm of an oil tanker, at the throttle of a train, in the engineer compartment of a subway car, or at the emergency control valves of a natural gas pipeline. The SAP’s responsibility to the public is enormous.
SAPs protect the public interest in safety by professionally evaluating the employee and recommending appropriate education and/or treatment, follow-up tests, and aftercare.
1. IMMEDIATELY Remove the driver from safety-sensitive functions (i.e., driving):
Even if the driver is on the road in another state, he/she must be notified to cease driving as soon it’s safe to do so. This is a liability and safety issue to the public.
2. Find a qualified DOT SAP.
Upon receiving your failed drug test results your employer may give you a list of qualified DOT SAPs. It is important that you make an appointment with a SAP as quickly as possible because you will not be permitted to perform safety-sensitive duties until you complete the return-to-duty process.
Finding a qualified DOT SAP in your area is possible but can take a while, as SAPs often have full schedules and many times you will need to leave messages for several of them. SAP Referral Services (SRS) can help. Once you get scheduled with a qualified DOT SAP you will be starting the return-to-duty process.
3. The first step to your return-to-duty process is being evaluated by your SAP.
The evaluation process has three steps: Initial Evaluation; Referral for Treatment/Education; and Final Evaluation. After the face-to-face evaluation, your SAP will either recommend that you complete a drug and alcohol program and/or education program. Once your treatment program is recommended your SAP will then send a report to your employer outlining the recommendation for treatment and/or education.
Initial Evaluation, the SAP will accomplish the following:
- The SAP will provide a comprehensive face-to-face assessment and clinical evaluation to understand his/her situation and history.
- The evaluation should be comprised of a standard psychosocial history; an in-depth drug and alcohol use history (with information regarding onset, duration, frequency, and amount of use; substance(s) of use and choice; emotional and physical characteristics of use; associated health, work, family, personal, and interpersonal problems); and, a current mental status.
- Recommend a course of education and/or treatment with which the employee must demonstrate successful compliance prior to returning to DOT safety-sensitive duty [The DOT requires that we make such a recommendation for every individual who has violated a DOT drug and alcohol regulation.]
- Provide a written report directly to the Designated Employer Representative (DER) highlighting our specific recommendations for assistance. The Designated Employer Representative (DER) will receive a written report after the initial evaluation and a second written report after the final evaluation.
The SAP may consult with the Medical Review Officer (MRO) who verified the employee’s drug test in gathering information for this evaluation. The MRO and SAP are free to discuss the test result, quantitation levels (if available), and any other pertinent medical information disclosed during the MRO’s verification interview with the employee.
This information can be provided without the employee’s signed release. It is important to note that SAPs are prohibited from considering certain factors in determining recommendations for assistance.
- Employee claims that the testing process was unjust or inaccurate.
- Employee statements attempting to lessen the seriousness of a DOT rule violation.
- The SAP’s own personal opinions about the justification and rationale for drug and alcohol testing.
Education and Treatment Program: The SAP will prescribe a treatment program for the donor based on the initial interview. The DOT requires that every person in violation of DOT drug/alcohol regulations must be referred for education or treatment.
There is a long list of organizations, agencies, hospitals and individual practitioners who can, in a timely manner, provide high-quality services to your employees across the entire spectrum of treatment and education options.
Upon a SAP’s determining what level of assistance the employee needs with a drug or alcohol problem, the SAP must inform the employer in writing of this decision. The SAP is to send this report directly to the employer and not to a third party or entity for forwarding to the employer. No third party is authorized to change the SAP’s report in any way.
Employees and employers are prohibited from seeking a second SAP evaluation in order to obtain another recommendation after a qualified SAP has evaluated the employee. Employers are not to rely upon a second evaluation if the employee obtains one contrary to this prohibition.
4. You will be required to show compliance to either your drug and alcohol program or education program.
After the employee has completed the SAP’s treatment program, another evaluation must take place with the same SAP. At that time, he/she will determine whether the employee may take an Return-To-Duty test and resume safety-sensitive functions.
5. When the SAP feels that you have made progress they will schedule a follow-up evaluation as part of the return-to-duty process.
After the final evaluation the second, and final report will also include a recommended schedule of unannounced follow-up urine analysis Drug and or Breath Alcohol Testing which must be administered in addition to your regular, ongoing random testing.
This evaluation report gets sent back to your employer and at that time they may schedule a return-to-duty drug test. It is very important, as the driver, to tell the drug test collector that this is a Return-to-Duty test. It is, also, very important to know that the Return-to-Duty drug test collection must be a directly observed collection.
That means that a person of the same gender must watch you void into the cup. You must insist on this because if the collection is not observed, the DOT will not accept the drug test result and you will have to repeat the collection wasting more time and more money.
6. If the Return-to-Duty drug test is Negative then you may return to commercial driving, if the employer feels that you have made significant progress.
Now that the driver can be placed back on the road, the SAP’s recommended follow-up test schedule begins.
Follow-Up Test Schedule: The SAP will provide the Designated Employer Representative (DER) with a schedule of Follow-Up Tests. The SAP will specify the number and frequency of the follow-up tests. The employer would then be responsible for ensuring that the individual is tested according to the plan.
Follow-up testing is an important way that the employer has to determine if the employee has stopped using controlled substances or misusing alcohol. It is important to note that the employer must conduct all of the follow-up tests (as well as the return-to-duty test) as directly observed collections – which includes a procedure for ensuring the employee does not have a prosthetic and other devices designed to carry “clean” urine or a urine substitute.
There are times when an employee will need continuing assistance with an alcohol or drug problem even if the employee is ready to return to work. At these times, the SAP will provide the employee and employer with their recommendations for “aftercare” – continuing education and/or treatment needed after return to safety-sensitive duties.
The SAP can re-evaluate the plan at any time and terminate the plan following first year if all the required tests for the first year were completed. Testing should be spread throughout the year, unpredictable, and unannounced. An employee’s follow-up testing program can last up to 60 months.
Typically, the SAP will provide the employer with the recommended number of tests and the frequency of the tests: For example, 4 tests in the first 6 months and 2 in the final six months of the first year; twenty-four tests, once each month for 24 months). Employers are best suited to arrange for the tests to be conducted because they are aware of employee performance issues and schedule circumstances. This follow-up testing requirement is in addition to tests accomplished through the employer’s DOT testing program. In other words, no other types of tests replace follow-up testing.
Common Questions during the Return-to-Duty Process
How many Follow-Up tests have to be taken?
The DOT requires the SAP to schedule a minimum of six tests over a 12-month period, but the process may continue for up to five years. Like the RTD test, each Follow-Up test must be taken under direct observation.
Do Follow-Up tests replace Random testing?
No. Just like all drivers, the employee must be included in a regular random testing pool and complete any selections he/she may receive. A Random test cannot replace a Follow-Up and a Follow-Up cannot replace a Random, as Random tests are not taken under direct observation.
Does the company or driver pay for the SAP program and tests?
It is important to note that employers are not required to provide a SAP evaluation or any subsequent recommended education or treatment for an employee. However, if the employer offers the employee an opportunity to return to DOT safety-sensitive duty, the employer must ensure that the employee goes through the entire SAP return-to-duty process to include successful compliance with the SAP’s recommendations. Payment is left for employers and employees to decide and may be determined by existing management-labor agreements, employer policies, or health care benefits.
My driver is returning after being on leave. Shouldn’t he/she take a Return to Duty test?
Given the term “Return to Duty,” it’s reasonable to assume that returning drivers, such as re-hires or those coming back from a seasonal layoff or medical leave, should take a RTD test, but that’s not the case. In fact, it’s a Pre-Employment test they must take.
What if I am fired from my company or start my own company?
All employment decisions belong solely to the employer. DOT regulations do not address employment actions such as hiring, firing or leaves of absence. DOT and USCG regulation may prohibit you from performing your safety-sensitive functions after a positive test result or refusal to submit to testing. You should be aware that a positive, adulterated or substituted DOT drug or alcohol test may trigger consequences based on company policy or employment agreement.