The Return to Duty Process
The return to duty process begins when an employer gives notice to an employee that they have failed the DOT alcohol or drug test. During this meeting (in person or virtual), the employer must give at least three referrals to a DOT substance abuse professional (SAP). The employee may choose one of those referrals or find their own.
The return to duty process continues with an evaluation conducted by a DOT Qualified SAP. During COVID, the DOT has temporarily authorized these appointments to be done by telecare. Otherwise, this is required to be an in person face-to-face meeting. An evaluation is conducted and the SAP makes a recommendation for education, counseling, or treatment.
Once you have seen a SAP you cannot go see another one. You must stay with the initial SAP through the whole process.
The SAP’s referral is based on the clinical evaluation during the face-to-face meeting. The SAP should have a working knowledge of what programs and counselors are available.
The SAP may take into consideration the driver’s ability to pay and insurance coverage. Once a SAP-approved provider has been agreed upon with the driver, the SAP will facilitate the referral and provide the program with their diagnostic determinations that led to the treatment plan. Programs range from education, outpatient treatment, partial day treatment, or full in-patient treatment.
Once the treatment plan (referral) has ended, the SAP will determine if it was a success. This decision is based on information provided by the program attended. This takes place during another face-to-face evaluation.
This second evaluation will result in one of three determinations:
- Successful completion of the treatment plan;
- Successful completion of the treatment plan, but additional aftercare or out-patient counseling is required; or
- Unsuccessful completion of the prescribed treatment plan, and additional follow-up evaluations are necessary. The employee cannot return to duty in a safety-sensitive function.
If the SAP is satisfied with the employee’s compliance, the SAP will issue a report on their findings to the designated employer representative (DER). This report will list any continuing treatment and education, if required, and the number of DOT follow-up drug and/or alcohol tests required in a given time frame. The employee will be required to have a minimum of six unannounced follow-up tests in the first 12 months following the their return to a safety-sensitive function. The SAP may require follow-up testing for up to five years.
If the SAP is not satisfied with the employee’s compliance, they may issue a letter of non-compliance. The employee cannot return to a safety sensitive job until the SAP recalls the non-compliance.
It is the DER’s responsibility to decide to allow the employee to return to duty in a safety sensitive function after they receive the report from the SAP, providing the SAP has made it clear that they are satisfied that the employee successfully completed the treatment plan.
After receiving the SAP report, the employer must require a return to duty alcohol or drug test. The employee must have a negative result in order for the employer to allow the employee to return to duty in a safety sensitive function.
After the employee returns to duty in a safety sensitive function, the DER must carry out the unannounced follow-up tests under direct observation as prescribed in the SAP report.
If the driver leaves the company prior to the completion of the very last follow-up test, the next employer(s) must pick up where the process left off if the employee is employed in another company in a safety sensitive function.
Once all follow-up tests have been completed, the employee is returned to normal testing as noted in DOT regulations.