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Return-to-Duty Drug Test: What Employers Need to Know [2022]

return to duty drug test

Regulated employers with safety-sensitive employees and some private-sector employers might include return-to-duty (RTD) drug testing as a part of their drug-free workplace policies.

Did you know that 104,800 commercial drivers had at least one drug or alcohol violation in 2021?

At iprospectcheck, we coordinate drug tests – including return-to-duty testing – for employers in both regulated and non-regulated industries.

This guide outlines important information about return-to-work testing you should know about.

Let’s start now.

What Is a Return to Duty (RTD) Drug Test?

A return-to-duty drug test is commonly used by regulated employers for employees holding safety-sensitive or security-sensitive jobs.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires return-to-duty drug tests before an employee can be returned to duty after they have successfully completed a drug and alcohol treatment program.

Non-regulated, private-sector employers might also include return-to-duty testing as a part of their drug testing policies if they choose to give an employee a second chance.

However, return-to-duty testing is not mandated for private-sector employers.

When Is a Return to Duty Test Required?

For regulated employers, return-to-duty tests are required in the following circumstances:

1. Refusals of reasonable suspicion or random drug tests

When an employee in a safety-sensitive job is selected for a random drug test or is asked to complete a reasonable suspicion test and refuses, the employee must be immediately removed from duty.

After they complete a drug and alcohol treatment program as recommended by an approved substance abuse professional (SAP), the employer must conduct a return-to-duty drug test before returning the employee to their safety-sensitive duties.

2. Violations of drug and alcohol policies

An employee in a safety-sensitive job for a DOT-regulated employer who violates the company’s drug and alcohol policies will be removed from their job duties and must complete a drug and alcohol treatment program.

Once they do, they must undergo return-to-duty testing before they can be returned to their jobs.

Some examples of violations of drug and alcohol policies might include possessing drugs or alcohol on the employer’s premises, transporting alcohol in the cab of a commercial truck, and others.

3. Testing positive on a random or reasonable suspicion drug test

Employees in safety-sensitive jobs who return positive results on a random drug test or reasonable suspicion drug or alcohol test must be immediately removed from their job duties.

They must then complete the drug and alcohol treatment program recommended by the SAP and submit a negative return-to-duty test before they can resume their job duties.

Who Is Required to Take a Return to Duty Test?

The following types of employees who refuse drug tests, return positive results, or violate their company’s drug and alcohol policies are required by the DOT to take return-to-duty tests before they can be allowed to resume their job duties:

  • Commercial truck drivers
  • Bus drivers
  • Airline pilots
  • Airline flight crew members
  • Flight attendants
  • Air traffic controllers
  • Train engineers
  • Train conductors
  • Train operators
  • Train signalmen
  • Train utility employees
  • Train dispatchers
  • Flight instructors
  • Aircraft dispatchers
  • Flight operations control specialists
  • Pipeline/hazardous materials operators
  • Pipeline/hazardous materials emergency responders
  • Pipeline/hazardous materials maintenance workers
  • U.S. Coast Guard service members

What Is the Return to Duty Process?

1. Appropriately Respond to the Drug and Alcohol Violation

The first step involved is to appropriately respond to the employee’s alcohol or drug violation.

If the employee is in a safety-sensitive job, you must immediately remove them from their duties.

If the employee is a commercial driver who is on a dispatch, inform them of their positive drug test and tell them to park the truck.

Make arrangements for a dispatched driver to return home and send a different driver to complete the delivery.

Give the employee a list of DOT-approved SAPs for a substance abuse evaluation regardless of whether you decide to retain the employee.

Have the medical review officer (MRO) report the violation to the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

2. Employee Submits to the SAP Evaluation

It is up to the employee to submit to the SAP evaluation. You can’t force them to do so.

However, the employee must undergo a face-to-face SAP evaluation if they want to return to their safety-sensitive position as the first step.

Employers are not required to pay for the SAP evaluation. Payment arrangements might depend on the employee’s healthcare benefits or based on a collective bargaining agreement.

3. Employee Attends Drug and Alcohol Education and Treatment Program

The SAP will refer the employee to a drug and alcohol education or treatment program based on their evaluation during the initial assessment.

The SAP will refer the employee to an appropriate professional and give the program the assessment results that resulted in the treatment plan.

The drug and alcohol education and/or treatment program might include outpatient education and treatment courses, partial inpatient treatment, or full inpatient treatment.

4. Completion of Treatment and Second SAP Evaluation

After the employee completes the treatment, the SAP will review information about the employee’s progress provided by the treatment provider and conduct a second in-person evaluation of the employee.

The SAP will determine whether the employee successfully completed the program. If they did, they can take a return-to-duty test and be returned to their safety-sensitive position upon a negative RTD test.

The SAP might also determine that the employee successfully completed treatment but requires additional outpatient counseling. In this case, the employee can be returned to duty following a negative return-to-duty test but must adhere to the SAP’s recommendations for follow-up care.

Finally, the SAP might determine that the employee failed to successfully complete the program and requires additional evaluations and treatment. In that case, the employee cannot be returned to work.

5. SAP Provides Report to Employer

The SAP will submit a report to the employer’s designated representative. This report will include the results of the employee’s treatment and any follow-up counseling that might be required.

The SAP’s report will also include how many follow-up drug tests will be required. Under DOT regulations, at least six unannounced follow-up drug or alcohol tests must be conducted within the first 12 months following the employee’s return to work.

Follow-up testing might be required for up to five years, and these tests are in addition to any random drug tests or reasonable suspicion tests that might be administered.

6. Employer Sends Employee for a Return to Duty Drug Test

If you want to return the employee to work, you must send them to take an observed return-to-duty drug test after they have successfully completed their treatment plan.

Contact iprospectcheck to coordinate your return-to-duty drug testing today.

You can’t send the employee for an RTD test until you receive the SAP’s report. You and the SAP must both report the employee’s successful treatment completion and negative drug test to the Clearinghouse to have their prohibited status lifted.

You can return the employee to their safety-sensitive duties once the Clearinghouse no longer shows the testing violation as unresolved.

7. Follow-Up Drug Testing

Once you return the employee to their safety-sensitive duties, you must send them for the number of follow-up tests recommended by the SAP or a minimum of at least six during the first 12 months.

Each follow-up test must be directly observed. Follow-up tests should not follow a recognizable pattern and should be administered in addition to other required tests, including random, post-accident, or reasonable suspicion drug tests.

Once the employee completes the required follow-up tests, you must report the information to the Clearinghouse.

Return to Duty Drug Testing Laws for 2022

Safety-Sensitive Industries – Department of Transportation

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) enforces the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991, including its rules for return-to-duty drug tests, on companies regulated by the following agencies:

While each of these agencies has its regulations governing return-to-duty testing, all of them also follow the DOT’s general requirements for how and when the process should be conducted.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

Commercial drivers who work for an employer regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are required to undergo return-to-duty drug tests before they can be returned to work under 49 CFR, part 382 § 382.309.

The return-to-duty tests for commercial truck drivers must comply with the rules found in 49 CFR part 40, subpart O.

Under these rules, the driver must first complete a substance abuse treatment and education program as recommended by a DOT-approved substance abuse professional (SAP).

Once the driver has satisfactorily completed the program, the employer must perform a return-to-duty drug test before the employee can be returned to a safety-sensitive job.

However, employers are not required to return employees to safety-sensitive jobs and are allowed to instead deny employment to them based on their violation of the company’s drug-free workplace policy.

Federal Aviation Administration

Under 14 CFR, Part 120 § 120.109(e), safety-sensitive employees of companies regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who have either refused a drug test or have returned a positive result must undergo a return-to-duty drug test before returning to work.

The employer isn’t allowed to return the employee to their safety-sensitive position until they have received a verified negative result and have completed the required substance abuse treatment and education program.

Federal Railroad Administration

Railroad employees in safety-sensitive positions who refuse drug or alcohol tests or return positive results are required to undergo return-to-duty tests if their employers want to return them to their jobs.

Under 49 CFR, part 40 § 40.305, employers who wish to return the employee to their safety-sensitive position must conduct a return-to-duty drug or alcohol test before doing so.

The employee can’t take a return-to-duty test unless they have completed the substance abuse treatment and education program required by the SAP.

They must return a negative drug test and an alcohol test showing a result of less than 0.02% BAC before they can be returned to their jobs.

Federal Transit Administration

The return-to-duty drug testing requirement for safety-sensitive employees working for companies regulated by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is found in 49 CFR, part 655 § 655.46.

Under this regulation, employees who test positive, refuse drug tests, or violate the company’s drug and alcohol policies must undergo the return-to-duty process and return a negative RTD test as prescribed by the DOT before they can be returned to work.

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)

Under 49 CFR, part 199 § 199.105(e), pipeline operators and other employees in safety-sensitive positions who refuse drug tests or return positive results can’t be returned to work unless they complete the return-to-duty process and return a negative RTD result as prescribed by the DOT.

How to Develop a Return-to-Work Drug Testing Policy

You should include return-to-duty drug testing in your company’s overall drug-free and drug-testing policies.

If you are a DOT-regulated employer, your return-to-duty tests must be DOT 5-panel urine screens.

Here’s a sample Return-to-Duty Drug Test Policy.

[COMPANY NAME’s] Return-to-Duty Drug Test Policy

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

[COMPANY NAME} is implementing this return-to-duty drug testing policy to outline the steps that must be taken before an employee can be returned to work following a violation of [COMPANY NAME’s} drug and alcohol policy, a positive drug test, or a refusal.

However, [COMPANY NAME] is not required to return an employee who has violated the company’s drug and alcohol policies to work and can choose to terminate their employment if desired.

POLICY STATEMENT

It is the policy of [COMPANY NAME] to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace to keep all employees safe. To do so, {COMPANY NAME] prohibits the use or possession of controlled substances or alcohol in the workplace or on the premises owned by [COMPANY NAME].

POLICY IMPLEMENTATION

Following an employee’s refusal of a reasonable suspicion, post-accident, or random drug test, or following a positive drug test or another violation of [COMPANY NAME’s] drug and alcohol-free workplace policy, the employee will be immediately removed from their job duties.

[COMPANY NAME] will inform the employee of the violation or positive result and decide whether to terminate the employee.

Regardless of the termination decision, [COMPANY NAME] will provide the employee with a list of approved Substance Abuse Professionals [SAPs] who can complete a face-to-face evaluation.

The employee can choose to attend the evaluation, but [COMPANY NAME] can’t force them to do so.

It will be up to the employee to complete the evaluation and all recommendations included in the SAP’s treatment plan. If they fail to do so, they will be terminated and will not be returned to work.

If the employee successfully completes the treatment plan, and {COMPANY NAME} wants to return them to work, {COMPANY NAME} will send them to complete a return-to-duty drug test under direct observation upon the receipt of the SAP’s report.

If the employee returns a negative result, [COMPANY NAME] may, but is not required to, return the employee to their position. The employee must complete all follow-up tests, random tests, post-accident tests, and reasonable suspicion tests and return negative results to maintain employment.

Return to Duty Drug Test FAQs

1. Is a return-to-duty drug test observed?

Yes, all return-to-duty drug tests must be directly observed under DOT regulations.

Additionally, follow-up tests must also be directly observed.

2. Do I have to hold the employee’s position open during the return-to-duty process?

No, employers are not required to keep an employee’s position open while they go through the return-to-duty process or return them to work.

You can choose to terminate an employee based on a violation of your company’s workplace drug- and alcohol-free policy.

3. Can I send a former employee for a pre-employment drug test instead of a return-to-duty test if I want to rehire them?

If your employee violated your company’s drug and alcohol policy, refused a drug test, or failed a drug test, they must complete the return-to-duty process before they can be returned to a safety-sensitive position.

If you want to rehire a former employee and are a regulated employer, you must send them for a return-to-duty test, which is directly observed, instead of a regular pre-employment drug test, which is not observed.

iprospectcheck: your partner for reliable employment drug testing

If you want to allow an employee to return to their safety-sensitive job following a violation of your company’s drug- and alcohol-free workplace policy, they must first complete the return-to-duty process and return a negative RTD drug test.

At iprospectcheck, we provide a range of drug testing services to both regulated and non-regulated employers, including pre-employment, random, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, return-to-duty, and follow-up drug tests.

To learn more about our drug testing and other employment background check services or to receive a free quote, contact us today: (888) 509-1979

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.