Ensuring a Return to Duty Process Unique to Each Individual Employee
It has come to the attention of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that some Substance Abuse Professionals (SAP) are providing Return-to-Duty (RTD) timelines to employees who have violated the DOT drug and/or alcohol regulations before conducting the required initial evaluation and SAP assessment of the employee. Doing so directly contravenes 49 CFR Part 40 and potentially compromises public safety. It also undermines the SAP’s role in evaluating each individual employee and directing that employee to get the specific help the employee needs.
As a reminder, your role as a SAP is important to the DOT return-to-duty process. You are not an advocate for the employer or the employee. Your function as a SAP is to protect the public interest in safety by evaluating the employee and recommending appropriate education and/or treatment, follow-up tests, and aftercare.
As a SAP, the decisions you make and the actions you take regarding an employee who has violated the DOT drug and/or alcohol regulations have the potential to impact transportation safety. The ultimate goals of the SAP process are to address the employee’s needs for rehabilitation for the sake of the employee, and to give the employee the tools the employee needs to return to the performance of safety-sensitive duties.
Consistent with sound clinical and established SAP standards of care in clinical practice, and utilizing reliable alcohol and drug abuse assessment tools, you must conduct an assessment and evaluation, either in-person or virtually (per applicable guidance), of the employee. In our longstanding SAP Guidelines, we have told SAPs, “The evaluation should be comprised of a review of the employee’s psychosocial history, an in-depth review of the employee’s drug and alcohol use history (with information regarding onset, duration, frequency, and amount of use; substance(s) of use and choice; emotional and physical characteristics of use; and associated health, work, family, personal, and interpersonal problems); and an evaluation of the employee’s current mental status.”
We want to strongly remind SAPs of the following 49 CFR Part 40 regulatory requirements:
- Provide a comprehensive assessment and clinical evaluation unique to the employee. [See 40.293(a)]
- Recommend a course of education and/or treatment unique to the needs of the employee whom you have assessed and evaluated. You must make a recommendation for education and/or treatment that will, to the greatest extent possible, protect public safety in the event that the employee returns to the performance of safety-sensitive functions. [See 40.293(b) and 40.293(b)(2)]
- In determining what your recommendation will be, SAPs must not take into consideration any of the following:
- Employee claims that the testing process was unjust or inaccurate. [See 40.293(f)(1)]
- Employee attempts to mitigate the seriousness of the violation (e.g., hemp oil, “medical marijuana” use, “contact positives”, poppy seed ingestion, job stress). [See 40.293(f)(2)]
- Personal opinions about the justification or rationale for the drug and alcohol testing. [See 40.293(f)(3)]
- Again, SAPs should not provide employees with estimated RTD timelines because each employee’s situation is unique.
As a resource, the Substance Abuse Professional Guidelines is posted on our website. The document can be found at https://www.transportation.gov/odapc/substance-abuse-professional-guidelines.