DOT Background Checks: What You Need to Know

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5 September 2023

DOT Background Checks: What You Need to Know

Bad hires can cost you. These are the employees who are significantly less likely to stay, waste your onboarding investment and contribute to additional recruitment costs. They also tend to put your company at risk for safety violations and other issues. However, it can be even more serious. The average jury award for negligent hiring is USD $1million and companies lose 79% of these cases.

Background checks, including pre-employment drug testing and alcohol testing, can prevent many of these bad hires and the costs associated with them. In fact, one study pegged the first-year retention rate for employees who underwent background checks at 89% compared to unscreened candidates whose retention rate dipped below 60%. (Learn more in Court Rulings In Background Checks: What Rulings Matter Beyond Guilty or Not Guilty?)

While a thorough background check makes sense for most companies, it’s the law for Department of Transportation (DOT) regulated companies. DOT mandates the pre-employment drug and alcohol testing and drug and alcohol testing history requirements in 49 CFR Part 40.25. Various DOT governed agencies, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enforce additional employment background checks that include work history and driving records. (Learn more in Everything You Need To Know About The FMCSA Clearinghouse Final Rule).

Pre-Employment Drug Test

All potential new employees who fall under DOT regulations must undergo a pre-employment drug test prior to being hired. This 5 panel DOT urine test checks for the presence of THC (marijuana), opioids, PCP, cocaine, and amphetamines. As per DOT regulations, any new employees must receive a negative test prior to employment although exemptions may be made for new hires who were tested in the past 6 months or were involved in a random drug screening in the past 12 months.

Driving Record

For most DOT covered employers, including the FMCSA, a background check often begins with a Driving Record Background Check. This must include a check of the previous three years of driving records from each state where the driver worked. The FMCSA also maintains a database that will allow you to do a quick online check of any FMCSA reportable crashes involving your potential new hire.

Work History Check

Most DOT governed agencies require potential employers to contact the previous DOT governed employers of all applicants. This is done both to verify claims of experience and to find out if that employee was involved in any incidents including accidents. Again, this information must be retrieved for the previous three years of an applicant’s driving history for the FMCSA but for the FAA it must include the previous ten years. Records can include written correspondence but can also include face to face and telephone interviews. Documentation of all information, whether it is written or recorded, is a critical requirement of this check.

The onus is on the employer to perform due diligence on each potential DOT covered new hire. This means that if you are unable to recover any information on a potential new hire, all of your efforts must be carefully documented and preserved. Failure to perform this check could result in either fines or potential civil liability proceedings. According to DOT regulations acquired records must also be added to the driver qualification file within thirty days of hire.

By law, DOT employers must provide information about their past employees that includes:

  • Dates of Employment
  • Job Title
  • Salary
  • Reason for Leaving
  • Eligibility for Rehire
  • Overall Job Performance

Accident Information

The work history record will also include any history of crashes involving the driver, the fallout from those crashes and any additional information about minor accidents that the previous employer offers to supply.

Drug History Check

The drug history check will reveal if your applicant has previously tested positive for drug or alcohol use or has violated any DOT regulations regarding drug and alcohol testing including any refusals to test. This check, conducted via previous employers, will inform you about both the nature of the violation and the consequences assessed for that violation, including any rehabilitation efforts.

In 2020, the FMCSA’s Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse will be live. This Clearinghouse will streamline the process by housing all CDL employee drug and alcohol testing information from positive tests to rehabilitation interventions in one place. Employers will have an easy way to locate information on potential new CDLs, but they will also be compelled to provide this information to the Clearinghouse on all their existing employees.

Medical Certifications

DOT applicants must also be certified by a medical examiner that has been certified by the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. The medical certification is typically valid for two years but DOT employees with certain medical conditions may have to undergo certification more often.

Additional Agency Background Checks

Agencies often have additional regulations that require more stringent and wide-ranging background checks of potential employees. DOT covered FAA employees, for example, may also be subject to additional security checks or a criminal records check if something in their work history triggers such a request. Some potential employees may also be subject to criminal records and credit history checks required by agencies such as the Transport Safety Administration (TSA)

Employee Rights

Applicants do have the right to review and challenge any records that were submitted by previous employers on their behalf. Following an offer of employment or a decision not to hire, they have thirty days to submit a request for a copy of these records and the employer who made the decision must provide these records within five days. The challenge could result in a previous employer sending corrected information or in the potential new employee being allowed to offer a formal rebuttal to the information supplied by that employer.

The Purpose Of DOT Background Checks

The goal of a DOT background check is to ensure the safety of your workers and the public and to ensure your applicants actually have the qualifications and skills necessary to keep people safe. For you, it has the added benefit of saving you money.