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FAQs: Alcohol and Drug Testing

Why should my company have an alcohol and drug testing program?

If you are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, an alcohol and drug testing program is mandatory, and failure to comply could result in fines or being blocked from travelling to the United States. For non-regulated companies, a testing program is highly recommended because alcohol and drug use among workers in safety-sensitive positions can put employees, the public and the environment at risk. By reducing injuries, accidents and illnesses, you not only promote safety, you potentially lower your liability risk and insurance premiums.

Do I need an alcohol and drug testing program policy?

Yes. Developing a program policy is necessary to ensuring your program is defensible and meets certain human rights requirements. We assist with developing and implementing a policy that meets your company’s needs.

As an employer, which types of drugs should I test for?

We conduct a standard 5-panel drug test for U.S. regulated employers. For workplaces that are not regulated, we can customize drug testing panels on request. It is important to note that we do not offer a one-size-fits-all approach – if you don’t need it, we won’t sell it to you.

How do I as an employer determine which type of drug test to use (oral fluid, hair, or urine) and whether I order a lab-based or an express test?

For employees in safety-sensitive positions, lab-based oral fluid and urine testing are the most common sample types, each with advantages and disadvantages in specific situations. For instance, oral fluid testing can provide shorter time windows of detection (i.e. hours, not days) for some drugs, and depending on the cutoff levels, the results could potentially indicate impairment in proximity to the test. Urine provides a longer history of use with a focus on risk as opposed to impairment. Express or Point of Care Testing using oral fluid is not as reliable as lab-based oral fluid tests, particularly when it comes to marijuana. Also, a point of care test is not a confirmation test. A POCT non-negative result must be confirmed by a lab-based test.

Should I order testing for more drugs than those included in the standard 5-Panel test?

We can create a customized panel for your testing needs, if required. Some employers choose to do 12-panel testing, but the necessity of testing for all of the drugs on that panel is debatable. Certain drugs on this panel, like propoxyphene, are no longer on the market and we do not want clients to pay extra for drug tests that are unnecessary.

What are the DOT cutoff levels for alcohol?

Employees who are regulated by the United States Department of Transportation (because of cross-border travel) will be suspended for 24 hours if they test at a level between and including 0.02 to 0.039. Although the suspension from performing safety-sensitive duties is mandatory, this is not considered a major violation of DOT rules for test results within this range. However, if the test result is 0.04 or higher, it is considered a violation of DOT testing program rules, and the driver cannot drive into the U.S. until he/she goes through the mandatory DOT return to duty process. For unregulated employees, there is no mandated workplace test cutoff level for alcohol, but there are recommended limits. The U.S. regulations are recognized as the gold standard for North America. In Alberta, the Canadian Model for Providing a Safe Workplace suggests limiting breath alcohol concentration to below 0.04.

What qualifies as a refusal to test?

Under U.S. regulations, a refusal to test happens when the employee has either substituted, adulterated or tampered with a urine specimen, refuses to participate in a regulated DOT required test, or obstructs the testing process.

How does random alcohol and drug testing work and how do I decide what the selection rate should be?

Employees are randomly selected from a pool. The testing dates and times are unannounced and are spread throughout the year. For DOT FMCSA-regulated companies, the number of random alcohol tests completed must equal at least 10 percent of the average number of driver positions subject to the regulations. For drugs, it’s 50 percent.

Non-regulated employers have the option of following the guidelines laid out by the Drug Alcohol and Risk Reduction Pilot Project, which recommend randomly selecting 50% of your safety-sensitive workforce for alcohol and drug testing over the period of a year.
DriverCheck’s random selection software selects participants for random testing at the desired rates.

Is it possible for employees in a random testing pool to be selected more than once in a calendar year?

Yes. Random testing means that every person in your testing pool has the same chance of being selected each time a random draw is made (usually quarterly, but can be done more frequently). It is possible, although rare, for an employee to be chosen in every selection. However, in order to avoid concerns about potential bias, our random selection is generated by a sophisticated computer program.

Should non-regulated employers conduct random drug and alcohol testing?

There is a common misperception that all random testing is illegal, unless an employer is required to do so to comply with mandatory testing regulations, such as those of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). Based upon a number of legal decisions emerging from a variety of different judicial settings (various human rights commissions, labour arbitration settings, provincial and federal court decisions, etc.), it is possible for non-regulated employers to establish and implement random testing programs, but such employers must be able to demonstrate exactly why there is a significant need to do so, while still adhering to human rights law, privacy law, labour law (including collective bargaining agreement matters, where applicable), and a host of other applicable laws and factors.

What has not been made totally clear by the courts, arbitrators, and commissions is a precise and consistent definition of the terms and conditions that constitute a valid, bona fide significant need for an employer to introduce random testing as part of its overall occupational and environmental health and safety strategy. For example, some decisions imply employers must demonstrate a significant drug and/or alcohol problem exists within the workplace, other decisions imply the need for demonstrating catastrophic outcomes linked to drug and alcohol misuse/abuse must be part of the equation, others suggest that such testing should focus on detection of impairment and not just detection of risk, while others imply that such a random program can be introduced with union agreement as part of collective bargaining.

The issues are many and are complex, but may be resolvable to the point where random testing is indeed justifiable and legal. Before any non-regulated employer or interest group determines that random testing should be introduced into its workplace, DriverCheck strongly recommends that such employers or interest groups seek out professional advice from legal counsel and policy experts familiar with and experienced with the various applicable laws that could have impact on such matters. If needed and as part of your random program consideration, DriverCheck can provide you with the names of legal and policy experts in this field who can advise you accordingly.

Under what circumstances is there a valid medical explanation for a non-negative drug screen test result?

Under the DOT regulations, there could be a valid medical explanation for the presence of certain drugs in an employee’s system. For example, someone who recently ate food containing poppy seeds or may have used medication containing opiates (codeine, or morphine) could test positive for the drug(s). At DriverCheck, our MROs analyze the non-negative result and interview the donor to make a determination. Where a valid medical explanation exists, the result is reported by the MRO as negative.

Should employers be concerned about the potential to “beat” a urine drug test?

Not with DriverCheck. Our contracted accredited laboratory conducts validity testing to ensure that a specimen has not been adulterated, substituted or tampered with. We also have a number of checks and balances in place at our collection sites to prevent donors from trying to “beat” the test.

As an employee, can I be fired if I fail an alcohol or drug test?

Federal and provincial human rights commissions have proclaimed that once an employee tests positive, it could be interpreted that he or she has a real or perceived disability (such as an addiction), and if so, efforts must be made to accommodate them up to the point of undue hardship. On behalf of our clients, and in order to help satisfy the duty to accommodate, we can refer those workers to a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) for assessment, diagnosis, and education and/or treatment. DriverCheck can provide any necessary return-to-duty and follow-up testing recommended by the SAP.

What body media testing options are available for DOT regulated programs, and for non-regulated programs?

U.S. regulated employers can only use urine to test for drugs. However, in addition to urine, non-regulated employers can also use oral fluid and hair to test for drugs. For alcohol testing, U.S. regulated employers can use saliva as a screening test only, and a breath test for screening and confirmation. Non-regulated employers can test using saliva, urine or breath.

What is a split specimen test, and who can order it?

In a split urine specimen collection, the master specimen is divided into two bottles. Bottle A is referred to as the primary specimen bottle and Bottle B is referred to as the split specimen bottle. Both are sealed and secured and sent with the appropriate copy of the custody and control form to the analytical laboratory. Bottle A is analyzed by the laboratory for the drugs of abuse listed. Bottle B remains sealed and secured at the laboratory, in case a specimen donor wishes to challenge non-negative laboratory results of the test. The specimen donor can challenge that result within 72 hours of his/her being advised by the MRO that the laboratory has reported a significant non-negative result. The challenge requires that the specimen donor request that his/her split specimen (Bottle B) be sent to a different accredited laboratory for analysis for the same substance(s) or abnormal property or properties detected in Bottle A. Only the specimen donor can make the request for a split specimen analysis and only the MRO can direct the analytical laboratory to put the split specimen process into action.

My driver has tested positive. Can he/she still drive commercially?

For U.S. regulated employers, any driver who tests positive, refuses to test, or is in violation of any other applicable provisions as defined in the rulemakings is immediately no longer qualified to drive commercial vehicles covered under U.S. DOT alcohol and drug testing regulations. It is up to the non-regulated employer to decide how much risk it is willing to take on by allowing someone who has tested positive, has refused to test, or has violated company policy in some way to continue driving.

What is the return-to-duty process following a positive test or other testing violation?

For U.S. regulated employers, workers who are in violation of drug and alcohol testing rules (positive test, refusal to test, for example) must be assessed by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) to determine if an addiction or serious risk for addiction or serious safety risk exists. The SAP will then recommend a treatment program and/or education. After treatment and/or education is completed, a follow up review is carried out and a clearance report is sent back to the employer, advising that the worker has met SAP requirements. The employer would then carry out a return to duty test and any recommended follow up testing. All such tests must have negative results in order for the driver to return to duty and to continue driving. DriverCheck assists you in managing this process.

Can any laboratory test specimens for the presence of drugs?

U.S. regulated employers can only use laboratories accredited by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to test for drugs. For non-regulated employers, it is highly recommended that an HHS-accredited lab be used because it is the gold standard for accuracy, performance and quality control.

What is the role of the Medical Review Officer (MRO)?

The MRO is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the testing process. He or she verifies and validates lab test documentation and results, offers specimen donors the opportunity to provide a valid medical explanation for non-negative results, and reviews relevant medical information. Following the MRO review, the MRO provides the final interpretation of the test results, known as the MRO determination, and reports the MRO determination to the employer. Our MROs are also available to provide clients with expert witness testimony, as needed.

What credentials must a doctor have to become a certified Medical Review Officer (MRO) specialist?

Medical Review Officers must be licensed physicians with knowledge of substance use, misuse, and abuse, as well as meet a number of other certification requirements under U.S. regulations. DriverCheck’s MROs have a Canadian medical license, are accredited in compliance with U.S. DOT requirements and have a heightened understanding of the Canadian health care system. Non-Canadian MROs may not necessarily be aware of some of the nuances contained in the Canadian health care system. For example, certain drugs requiring a prescription in the U.S. may be purchased without one in Canada.

How can a drug screen test result in a false positive?

A scientific false positive is one where a scientific test indicates a positive result for a drug, but a higher level scientific test indicates the true result is negative. Example: A POCT screening test is positive for amphetamine, but GC/MS confirmation testing yields a negative result. The POCT result in this scenario is a false positive result.

Who do I call if I have questions or problems?

If you have any questions or concerns about your program or our services, please contact your sales consultant, call our customer service department at 1-800-463-4310 or e-mail us at drivercheck@drivercheck.ca.