It’s pretty common to be asked to undertake a drug and alcohol test when you’re offered employment in the U.S. In some cases, an job offer won’t become official until the test is passed. Many employers also require existing employees to take drug and alcohol tests at regular intervals to ensure nobody is under the influence in the workplace. A non-DOT drug test applies to jobs outside the Department of Transportation (DOT).
History of Drug Testing
In 1988, congress passed the Drug-Free Workplace Act to establish the framework to cut down on drug use in the workplace. After this, drug testing became more common. In 1991, the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act was passed, requiring all those employed in a safety-sensitive workforce (i.e., by companies regulated by the DOT) to take company drug tests. These companies must test employees before they are hired, and then at random intervals during the course of their employment.
Difference Between DOT and Non-DOT
DOT testing is required for those working with the Department of Transportation, such as pilots, truck drivers, coast guards and boat captains. DOT testing falls under federal, not state, drug testing guidelines, which means the testing process is much stricter. However, testing is typically limited to five major drug groups: cocaine, marijuana, opioids, PCP and amphetamines/methamphetamines.
An extended opiate panel was added to the 5 panel test in January 2018. The DOT drug test is a urine test, although the department requested a switch to the hair follicle test and is currently waiting for the law to be implemented. Additionally, an alcohol test is also carried out by an operator using a breathalyzer machine.
Non-DOT testing applies to job that aren’t generally considered to be "safety-sensitive." However, these tests may look for a wider range of substances. Several drugs may be tested for, including cannabinoids, cocaine, amphetamines/methamphetamines, opioids, PCP, methadone, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, MDMA, flaka, steroids, nicotine and tricyclic antidepressants. An employer can choose which substances he would like his employees to be tested for, and choose his own rules regarding employee drug testing, for example, how often tests are taken and what steps should be taken if an employee tests positive.
Non-DOT Testing Process
Types of drugs tests
Non-DOT employers may screen for drugs using any (or all) of the following types of tests:
- Pre-employment drug test.
- Random drug test.
- Post-accident drug test.
- Reasonable suspicion drug test.
- Return-to-duty drug test.
- Probationary drug test.
No state has a complete ban on non-DOT drug testing in the workplace, but some have guidelines that must be followed to remain in compliance with state law. Generally, the employer must inform a prospective employee that she is required to submit to a drug test. It's good practice to ask the applicant to sign a consent form for the drug testing which also gives the laboratory permission to release the results to the employer.
Additionally, the employee should be given a copy of any positive drug test result. Most states require drug test results to be treated the same as employee medical records and stored separately from personnel records.
Various test methods are available, including blood tests, urine tests, mouth swab tests and hair follicle tests. Blood tests are less commonly used because they are expensive, intrusive and offer only a short window of detection.
Compared to the blood test, the urine test is very cost-effective, which makes it much more common for drug screening. More than 90 percent of the 55 million drug tests submitted each year are urine tests. The window of detection depends on the drug, ranging from a few days to a few weeks. The exception is marijuana: heavy users may test positive for over 30 days after stopping use. The urine test has a high accuracy rate, but is easily tampered with or substituted because it needs to be done in private.
Mouth swab tests
The mouth swab test is less invasive than the urine test, but more expensive. It’s a less popular testing method, largely because it only finds drugs taken up to 72 hours before the test is taken. However, one advantage the mouth swab test has over the urine test is that it doesn’t require privacy, which eliminates cheating. The mouth swab test involves placing a swab between the person’s lower cheek and gum, and holding it there until it is saturated. It’s almost impossible to replace or meddle with the test sample.
Hair follicle tests
The hair follicle test is more expensive than both a urine test and a mouth swab test. However, it has a very long testing window and can identify all drugs in a person’s system for three months.
Additionally, it doesn’t require privacy, and is quick, non-intrusive and painless. The person collecting the test simply cuts a small piece of hair as close to the scalp as possible. If an employee has a problem with getting her hair cut, body hair may be used instead; it's tested by volume instead of length.
It’s rare to get an inconclusive result from a mouth swab or hair follicle test, but not inconceivable. Plus, human error is always a possibility.
Medication May Affect Drug Test Results
If someone is on medication that may cause her to fail a drug test, it’s sensible to make the person administering the test and the potential employer aware of the situation. And it’s not necessarily the end of the world – provided she’s not abusing the medication, it may only result in some additional waiting time before starting the job.
Test Panel Options
Ready-made test panel options vary by provider. For instance, the USA Mobile Drug Testing offers a 5, 9, 10 and 12 panel drug test. The 5 panel test identifies amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana (THC), opioids, and PCP (phencyclidine). The 12 panel test also identifies benzodiazepines, barbiturates, methadone, propoxyphene, tramadol, fentanyl and meperidine.
U.S. Drug Test Centers offers a wider range of ready-made tests, including a 16 panel drug test, which tests for the following drugs:
- Phencyclidine (PCP).
- Opiates (including heroin, codeine, and morphine).
Any company can request a DOT-like test panel for a non-DOT drug screen, but can also personalize the panel, for instance, by removing a drug from the panel and replacing it with something else to ensure all the drugs they wish to test for are included.
Drug Test Results
The same results are available regardless of the testing method. A positive result indicates drug use, a negative result occurs when no drugs are detected, and an inconclusive result means it is neither positive nor negative. Inconclusive results are more common in urine tests, and rare in hair follicle and mouth swab tests.
Read More: What Happens if You Fail a Drug Test
The Future of Marijuana Testing
Some employers have chosen to remove marijuana from their standard test panel if the drug has been legalized in their state. As long as marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government (it's a Schedule 1 controlled substance), many employers will continue to test for it as part of their uniform drug testing process.
However, the future is uncertain regarding marijuana testing. In 2020, both New York City and Nevada will enforce a law banning employers from including marijuana on their pre-employment drug tests.
- USA Mobile Drug Testing: Non-DOT Drug Test
- Cornell Law School LII: 41 U.S. Code § 8102.Drug-free workplace requirements for Federal contractors
- U.S. Department of Transportation: Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991
- CBIA: State & Federal Law: Drug Testing
- U.S. Drug Test Centers: Drug Test Panels
- USA Mobile Drug Testing: Drug Testing
- USA Mobile Drug Testing: DOT Hair Drug Testing
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.