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Random Testing and DOT Audit Preparedness - November 10, 2014

Resulting from growing concerns surrounding substance abuse by American workers, President Reagan’s 1986 executive order mandated every federal agency to implement a drug-free workplace program (DFWP). Eventually, and after recognizing that swift action was needed with regards to employers in transportation industries following tragic accidents that had occurred, the United States Congress enacted the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act (OTETA) of 1991.

Squarely targeting workplace and public safety, OTETA mandated Department of Transportation (DOT) regulated employers to conduct pre-employment and post-hire testing of workers performing “safety-sensitive” functions. At the center of the new DOT regulations stood random testing.

Under DOT, each regulating agency sets annual random testing thresholds for the industry it regulates, and covered employers are mandated to at least meet each threshold by the end of the calendar year. The chart below outlines minimum testing rates now in place for 2014:

DOT Agency

2014 Random Drug Testing Rate

2014 Random Alcohol Testing Rate

FAA - Federal Aviation Administration



FMCSA - Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration



FRA - Federal Railroad Administration



FTA - Federal Transit Administration



PHMSA - Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration



USCG - United States Coast Guard



In the United States today, among the 22.4 million adults who use illicit drugs, 68.9% are employed. Among the 58.5 million adults who are binge or heavy alcohol users, 76.1% are employed. Consequently, random testing becomes an essential component of a post-hire Drug Free Workplace Program as it, more than any other testing category, communicates the employer’s zero-tolerance for drug use and continuously deters abuse in the workplace. With an effectively administered program, covered employees know that they are always subject to selection for random testing, yet uncertain as to when their shoulder might be tapped.

DOT-regulated employers must always be in a position to demonstrate to a DOT auditor that the random testing program being administered is fully compliant with all DOT requirements. The employer’s policy and DER (Designated Employer Representative) are key in facilitating full compliance. The chart below outlines key guidelines and practices that regulated employer should consistently manage to effectively ensure compliance.

Employee Awareness - The Employer Should Ensure…..

That every covered employee is aware of the employer’s random selection and testing requirement through documented employer policy, which every employee should receive prior to initiating safety-sensitive work. Each employee must also sign an acknowledgement of policy receipt with agreement to abide by all provisions.

Random Pool - The Employer Should Ensure…..

  • The DOT random pool consistently includes only employees performing safety-sensitive work as defined by the DOT agency regulating the employer, and at no time can any other employee not covered by DOT regulations be included in the same pool. The pool should also be immediately updated when a new employee is hired or transferred into a covered position, and after one is no longer covered.
  • Testing is conducted at or above the highest minimum testing rate if the employer is regulated by two or more DOT agencies, and, has elected to combine the pools (PHMSA and USCG do not authorize random alcohol testing and, therefore, these pools cannot be in a combined pool that would include alcohol testing).

Employee Selection - The Employer Should Ensure…..

  • Selection is made on at least a quarterly basis, meaning that annual and semi-annual selections cannot be made.
  • Selection is made by a scientifically valid method, such as a random number table or a computer-based program.
  • The process used to select employees for a testing cycle (e.g., quarter, month, week, etc.) ensures that every employee in the pool has an equal statistical chance of being selected whenever a selection is made, irrespective of previous selections or testing history. This practice ensures that testing is truly random.
  • Selected lists are provided only to individuals authorized by the regulated employer to receive and safeguard throughout the entire testing cycle. The lists are best transmitted to the DER 1 – 3 days prior to the onset of the testing cycle, and following recent submission of the random pool for selections to be made (4 – 7 days prior to the onset of the testing cycle). This strikes an effective balance ensuring the most current pool is used for selection, while ensuring timely distribution of the selected list to the DER(s).

Employee Notification & Testing - The Employer Should Ensure…..

  • Each employee selected for testing proceeds immediately to the test site following discreet notification to test (the employer can safeguard against potential to cheat the testing process by having the selected employee escorted from the point of notification to the test site).
  • Testing remains unannounced and unpredictable by covered employees at all times, and is reasonably spread and conducted throughout the entire calendar year.
  • Testing occurs during all times that safety-sensitive work is being performed, including weekends, holidays, and off-hours (random alcohol testing is limited to just before, during, or just after the performance of safety-sensitive work).
  • Employees who are available for testing at any time during the testing cycle should never be excused from testing, as an auditor will expect the selected list to be 100% executed within the testing cycle). If a selected employee does not test, that employee cannot be sent for testing in the next cycle unless he/she is again selected, and, the DER must document why testing could not be conducted during the testing cycle for which the employee was selected (under FAA, selected employees are permitted to test outside the testing cycle).

Records Management - The Employer Should Ensure…..

  • Random pools, selected lists, excusal reports, and other related program records are maintained in a secured location with controlled access, and retained for a minimum of 2 full calendar years.
  • An employee who fails to arrive at a test site following notification (or within a reasonable time frame - as determined by the DER) is deemed to have refused to test. For this reason, the DER should inspect the test date/time recorded on the Chain of Custody/Control Form (CCF, or the ATF – Alcohol Testing Form) following test completion. For example, it would not be reasonable for a test at a site a quarter-mile up the road from the employee’s work location to complete 3 hours following notification. In such an instance, the DER should contact the test site to determine if there was a legitimate reason that could have caused a delay that day.
  • All CCFs and ATFs are inspected by the DER following the test to ensure appropriate completion by a supervisor or test site. For example, a DOT reasonable suspicion or post-accident test is sometimes marked incorrectly as a random test. In such an instance, the DER should prepare a corrective statement and affix to the form returned from the test site. Further, a non-federal form is sometimes used accidentally for a DOT test. This level of oversight is essential in advance of a DOT inspection, and to ensure correct reporting of DOT data on an MIS (Management Information System) report that would be prepared for a calendar year.
  • Random tests that are appropriately cancelled for whatever reason are not counted against the annual random testing thresholds, as would be reported on an MIS report.

Today’s DFWP programs can benefit from more than two decades of evolving experience, and the DOT guidelines represent the best model for a DFWP program that is not federally-mandated. Provided there is alignment with state and other applicable regulations surrounding workplace testing (or collective bargaining agreement), an employer administering or contemplating a Non-DOT random testing program would do well to shape their program based on DOT guidelines.