DOT releases updated guidance for drug and alcohol testing

March 23, 2020

Mark Schremmer


The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued updated guidance about its drug and alcohol testing regulations amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

DOT issued the guidance on Monday, March 23, to provide “clarity to DOT-regulated employers, employees, and service agents on conducting DOT drug-and-alcohol testing given concerns about (the coronavirus).”

“We, as a nation, are facing an unprecedented public health emergency that is straining medical resources and altering aspects of American life, including the workplace,” the DOT wrote. “The nation’s transportation industries, which are not immune to the impacts and disruptions resulting from the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, are playing a vital role in mitigating the effects of COVID-19. DOT is committed to maintaining public safety while providing maximum flexibility to allow transportation industries to conduct their operations safely and efficiently during this period of national emergency.”

New guidance

The updated guidance says DOT-regulated employers must comply with applicable DOT training and testing requirements. However, the department said it recognizes that compliance may not be possible in certain areas because resources – including breath alcohol technicians, medical review officers, and substance abuse professionals – may not be available.

“You should make a reasonable effort to locate the necessary resources,” the DOT guidance stated. “As a best practice at this time, employers should consider mobile collection services for required testing if the fixed-site collection facilities are not available.

“If you are unable to conduct DOT drug or alcohol training or testing due to COVID-19 related supply shortages, facility closures, state or locally imposed quarantine requirements, or other impediments, you are to continue to comply with existing applicable DOT agency requirements to document why a test was not completed.”

If training or testing can be conducted later, DOT’s guidance said it should be done in accordance with applicable modal regulations.

The underlying modal regulations continue to apply, the DOT said. For example, an employer may not permit a prospective or current employee to perform any DOT safety-sensitive functions without a “negative” pre-employment drug test result.

Health concerns

Even if testing is available, DOT said it is aware some employees have expressed concern about potential public health risks associated with the collection and testing process as the coronavirus continues to spread.

“As a reminder, it is the employer’s responsibility to evaluate the circumstances of the employee’s refusal to test and determine whether or not the employee’s actions should be considered a refusal per (the regulations),” the DOT guidance stated. “However, as the COVID-19 outbreak poses a novel public health risk, DOT asks employers to be sensitive to employees who indicate they are not comfortable or are afraid to go to clinics or collection sites. DOT asks employers to verify with the clinic or collection site that it has taken the necessary precautions to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

The department also issued specific guidance for DOT-regulated employees.

“If you are experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, you should contact your medical provider and, if necessary, let your employer know about your availability to perform work,” the DOT guidance stated.

DOT also reiterated to employees for them to let their employers know if they coronavirus-related concerns regarding getting tested amid the outbreak.

OOIDA’s request

As part of a letter sent last week to President Donald Trump, as well as to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FMCSA, OOIDA requested that random drug and alcohol testing of drivers be suspended for at least 90 days or until truckers have the means to fully comply.

OOIDA also asked the federal government to implement at least a 90-day extension of expiring medical cards and CDLs that are in good standing.

“Drivers need to be certain they are operating under compliance at all times, but the suspension of many federal and state operations and closure of important facilities has made this extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many truckers,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer wrote.

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Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.