The Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) oversees six different operating administrations. These include the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the US Coast Guard (USCG). To ensure the safety of the general public the federal DOT enforces an alcohol and drug testing program for all workers falling under these operating administrations. All new hires undergo a pre-employment test, and are then subject to random tests, post-accident testing, and testing under reasonable suspicion. In the event that someone tests positive for alcohol or drugs, they are immediately suspended from work and must complete the entire return to duty process before becoming eligible to return to work again.

What is Involved in the Return to Duty Process?

By: Chris Anderson Psy.D.

Broadly speaking, there are three main steps that must be completed in the return to duty process:

  • Obtained an SAP Evaluation
  • Complete all recommendations
  • Produce a negative alcohol or drug test

What is an SAP Evaluation?

SAP stands for Substance Abuse Professional. These are generally doctors, psychologists, or alcohol and drug counselors with specialized training in assessing and diagnosing substance abuse issues. When the employee comes in for the SAP evaluation they will meet with the healthcare professional who will obtain some medical history, social history, and legal history, evaluate mental health issues, and spend a great deal of time going through the employee’s entire chemical use history. They will usually administer an objective measure or test that is also designed to assess substance abuse issues. Additionally, the SAP will likely seek collateral information from family members and friends to confirm that the information provided by the employee is consistent with what others are observing. At the end of the evaluation, recommendations will be made. This is usually either treatment if a determination of chemical dependency is made, or an education class if there is only evidence of substance abuse. A report is written and provided to both the employer and employee explaining what recommendations need to be completed.

What Happens when Recommendations are Completed?

Once the employee has completed treatment or the education class, they will contact their SAP evaluator and schedule a follow-up meeting. DOT requires that the employee follows with the SAP to provide official verification of completion of all recommendations. The SAP will also have a conversation with the employee to ensure they are confident the employee was engaged with the recommendations and appears to have obtained useful information to facilitate better decision-making in the future. Once satisfied, the SAP will write another report to send to the employer letting them know that the employee has completed all required recommendations and is ready to go for the return to duty alcohol or drug test.

The Return to Duty Alcohol or Drug Test?

Once the employer has verified of completed recommendations, they will send the employee to the lab to complete an observed return to duty alcohol or drug test. Once that test comes back negative, the DOT considers them to be back in good standing and eligible to return to job duties. Although the employee is able to return to work at this point, the DOT will continue monitoring them through follow-up testing. The employee will still be in the random pool but will also have to undergo a number of additional follow-up tests over a period of 1-5 years, meaning they will be tested with much greater frequency than their fellow employees.

At Innovative Psychological Consultants, Dr. Chris Anderson, Psy.D., LP, SAP is a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) approved by the DOT to perform SAP evaluations and help employees get through the Return to Duty Process. If you want to schedule, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule an SAP evaluation with Dr. Anderson.  Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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