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An employee has to take a return to duty drug test after he or she has tested positive for a drug test, refused to get tested or violated other drug and alcohol testing policies. Return to duty drug testing is mandated for DOT regulated drug testing especially for safety sensitive or seasonal positions such as truck and bus drivers, train engineers, pilots and subway operators.

According to DOT regulations an employee will be subject to a minimum of 6 unannounced follow-up tests in the first 12 months. Follow up testing may be required based on the SAP’s or substance abuse professional’s findings. You can learn more about the role of a substance abuse professional or SAP in the return to duty drug testing process in this blog post.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should an employee returning from leave be taking a return-to-duty drug test?

The term return-to-duty can be confusing to some. Any employee returning to work from a medical leave, re-hiring or seasonal lay-off or such should take a pre-employment drug test, and not return-to-duty. RTD or return-to-duty drug test should only be taken by an employee who has tested positive for a previous drug test, refused to get tested or violated other drug and alcohol testing policies.

What’s the difference between return-to-duty and pre-employment drug test?

To start with RTDs differ from pre-employment drug tests as they are directly observed drug tests (under DOT regs) which means that a person of the same sex will accompany the employee during the sample collection process in order to ensure the authenticity of the sample and the drug test. The second difference is return-to-duty drug test is administered only when an employee is tested positive or receives a non-negative drug test result. He/she also has to complete the steps laid out by the substance abuse professional including the required counseling program.

What are the steps in a return-to-duty process?

Step 1: Immediately removing the driver/employee from safety-sensitive functions like driving etc. Inform your driver to stop driving and pull over and park as soon as it’s safe to do so. You can arrange another driver to complete the route and ensure the existing driver reaches home safely.

Step 2: Arranging a consultation of the employee with an SAP. You need to provide a list of qualified SAPs to your employee or driver. The SAP list should have valid phone numbers and addresses. This needs to be done irrespective of whether you keep or fire the employee. You cannot force the employee to consult with the SAP but advise him/her that not doing so can potentially put an end to their career.

Step 3: Employee enters into an education and treatment program as prescribed by the SAP. The SAP will have a face to face interview with the employee to understand the situtation and history of drug use and come up with a plan of action accordingly. This may include self help groups, drug and alcohol education courses or community lectures.

Step 4: SAP conducts a follow up evaluation. Once the employee completes the recommended treatment program, the SAP meets with the employee again to determine when the return-to-duty drug test should be performed.

Step 5: Finally the DOT requires at least 6 unannounced and directly observed drug tests over a 12 month period. The SAP according to DOT rules can repeat follow-up testing every year for up to 5 years, if the SAP has a valid reason for that.