The Return To Duty Process and the SAP

If a DOT-regulated employee fails or refuses a drug or alcohol test, s/he must complete the Return-To-Duty (RTD) process in order to return to safety-sensitive work. Many employers with non-regulated employees follow a similar procedure, but under DOT it’s non-negotiable.

The main question we get is whether the employee can keep his job or be eligible to work again.

Yes, s/he can be eligible to work again. Keeping the job is up to each employer. This is one reason employers must have a well-written substance abuse policy.

A complete guide to return to duty process:

FMCSA Infographic (PDF)

When a regulated employee fails (or refuses) a test, the employer must notify the employee and refer him to a SAP. At InOut Labs, we help our employers with this process.

Here’s what happens next:

1- Face to face initial evaluation-The Substance Abuse professional (SAP) conducts a face-to-face interview with the employee. The SAP tries to understand the actual background of the employee to determine whether he has a habitual problem, or perhaps just made an error in judgment.

2- Substance abuse program- The SAP prescribes a treatment program. The length of the treatment depends on the employee and the SAP’s evaluation.

3- Second evaluation – After successful completion of the substance abuse program a follow-up evaluation is done with the same SAP. Depending on the SAP’s assessment of the employee’s ability to remain drug or alcohol-free, the SAP may recommend the employee be eligible to return to duty. Before returning to duty, a successful Return-to-Duty drug (and often alcohol) test is required. The RTD drug test is directly observed, meaning the drug test collector goes into the restroom with the donor to prevent cheating.

Assuming negative results, the employee is now eligible to return to safety-sensitive work.

4- Follow up tests– The SAP also requires Follow Up testing, which can be as long as 5 years, with a minimum of 6 in the first 12 months. All Follow Up drug tests are performed under direct observation and are to be unannounced. The employer is charged with carrying out the Follow Up testing.

Even though Follow Up testing is the employer’s responsibility, InOut Labs provides reminders to our clients as a courtesy.

How The FMCSA Clearinghouse Fits In


There are always a lot of them. Feel free to ask.

Check out Tim discussing the Return To Duty Drug Testing Process for DOT Regulated Employees