Guidelines for Employers With Both DOT and Non-DOT Employees

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5 September 2023

Guidelines for Employers With Both DOT and Non-DOT Employees

Juggling your expectations and government regulations can be a challenge for companies who employ both DOT and Non-DOT employees. And, maintaining two separate workplace drug and alcohol policies may seem like just one more administrative headache that you don’t need. However, for many reasons, it is important that you do.

The guidelines provided under DOT include many best practices you will want to duplicate, but your Non-DOT guidelines can extend protections for your company beyond what DOT guidelines offer. With two sets of guidelines, one that applies specifically to your DOT employees and one that applies to all workers, you take advantage of the defensibility and protocols of the DOT test, extend the protections offered by your policies and eliminate confusion among your employees and your supervisors. (Learn more in DOT vs. Non-Dot Testing: What's The Difference?)

DOT regulations may be more constraining and less comprehensive than you would like. (Learn more in When An Employee Refuses A DOT Drug Test: What You Need To Know). In drug and alcohol testing polices and procedures for Non-DOT workers and your entire workforce, you may want to include both additional reasons for testing and additional drugs in your testing panel. You may also want to increase the number of employees who are subject to random testing.

A Few Things To Consider

Put it in Writing

This may seem obvious but guidelines for your Non-DOT employees or that extend DOT regulations must be in writing. This ensures clarity and it also helps secure enforceability. Supervisors should, of course, always default to federal DOT guidelines first for all DOT regulated employees. To further clarify things for your supervisors and employees, it isn’t a bad idea to provide links and references, where appropriate, between the DOT and Non-DOT documents.

Tested Drugs

The new DOT guidelines have added four semi-synthetic opioids to the DOT drug panel, but the panel still does not test for all prescription medications or drugs that might be abused or affect the safety of your employees. Another consideration should be that while internal drug testing policies are relatively easy and quick to adapt to changing drug use patterns, as federally mandated regulations DOT tends to be a little slower to change.

Your DOT employees can be subject to both DOT regulations and your own guidelines. It is important to note however, that you cannot use samples collected under DOT programs and test them again under a Non-DOT program. Samples for each program must be collected separately.

Free Download: What Your Company's Drug and Alcohol Policy May Be Missing (and How to Get It Right)

Random Testing

Random testing is a proven deterrent. One study in the U.S. Navy found that random drug testing reduced drug use by 60%. Another study of random alcohol testing of commercial truck and bus drivers found that it reduced the risk of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes by 23%.

DOT programs set random testing to rates that range from 25% to 50% for drugs and 10% to 25% for alcohol. This means that you must test a specific percentage of your DOT covered employee pool yearly. A reasonable baseline target for most workplaces is 50%.

This may or may not be enough for your Non-DOT program. You may wish to increase the size of your pool of selected employees for random testing. Or, you could increase the frequency of your tests to monthly or quarterly rather than simply once per year as required by DOT. Regardless, it is critical that your policies for both DOT and Non-DOT testing identify a truly randomized testing sample. For example, supervisors cannot specifically target employees for random testing.

Many employers are now using computerized programs that create testing pools from employee numbers or social security numbers to ensure they are completely randomized. You must also keep your DOT random pool separate from your “all company employees” pool. DOT employees can be in the main pool, but Non-DOT employees cannot be in the DOT pool.

While there are few federal rules regulating Non-DOT employees and random testing, there may be state and local regulations you must follow.

Incidents and Testing

The DOT rules concerning drug testing or alcohol testing following an incident are fairly narrow and limited to those incidents in which the driver is cited as the cause. For your Non-DOT guidelines, you can create a much wider definition that includes both driving and non-driving situations. You can also widen the number of incident situations in which drug or alcohol testing is required.

Safety-Sensitive Definitions

Safety-sensitive employees are largely defined as Commercially Licensed Drivers (CDLs) under DOT regulations. In your workplace guidelines, you can address all employees you deem to be working in a safety-sensitive environment. Several states also maintain lists of jobs they consider high-risk or safety-sensitive.

Reasonable Suspicion

DOT regulations restrict the concept of reasonable suspicion of drug use to acute, or immediately observable, signs and symptoms. There are occasions, though, when warning signs are more cumulative in nature. Perhaps your employee is demonstrating a progressive pattern of behavior that indicates possible drug use. (Learn more in Signs of Drug Use in Employees: Behaviors That Might Signal Drug Use On The Job). Your workplace guidelines can address this possibility by extending reasonable suspicion to include both acute and progressive signs of possible drug use as grounds for testing.

Keep in mind that you must be able to demonstrate clear and concise reasons for a reasonable suspicion test. Your employee arriving consistently late would not be an adequate reason, for example.

New Employees

Under DOT, negative results must be received prior to a new employee starting safety-sensitive work. Your Non-DOT guidelines can be more flexible and allow you to test new-hires within a certain period – the first thirty days of employment, for example.

A few final thoughts

Creating comprehensive drug and alcohol testing practices for both DOT and Non-DOT employees offers the best protection for you and your employees. To further protect your testing program and your company:

  • Ensure you have written policies for DOT and Non-DOT employees.
  • Post notices of that policy to your employees.
  • Default first to DOT regulations for all your DOT employees.
  • Ensure random testing is truly random.
  • Separate your DOT pool from your “entire company” pool.
  • Always have clear, concise grounds for reasonable suspicion.
  • Never use DOT samples to perform additional tests.