What to Do If an Employee Fails a Drug Test

What to Do If an Employee Fails a Drug Test

The Department of Transportation has strict drug testing regulations to preserve employee and public safety. If you are a supervisor in a DOT-regulated position, you have specific guidelines to abide by after an employee fails a drug test. Here is an overview of how that process works, so you can be prepared for a future event.

Which Employees Are Subject to Drug Testing?

As a general rule, any employee that may be in a safety-sensitive position is subject to drug testing. The employees that fit that description will vary by agency. The DOT has a list of covered and regulated employees for each agency. Examples include: commercial vehicle operators, train conductors, pilots, air traffic controllers, flight attendants, railway workers, and more.

All safety-sensitive employees must complete a pre-employment DOT drug test, and they will be placed in a pool for random drug testing. They may also be subject to testing after an accident or reasonable suspicion.

Regardless of whether the employee is in a DOT regulated position or not, there are certain steps you should take. If an employee fails a drug test, it’s important to handle the situation carefully and in accordance with your company’s policies, legal regulations, and best practices. Here’s a general outline of steps you could take:

Review Company Policy: Before taking any action, review your company’s drug and alcohol policy to understand the procedures and consequences outlined in such situations. Ensure that your actions align with the policy.

If the employee is in a DOT safety-sensitive position, you must immediately remove them from any safety-sensitive duties. The decision to keep them employed is up to you.

Maintain Confidentiality: It’s crucial to maintain confidentiality throughout the process. The employee’s privacy rights should be respected, and information about the failed drug test should only be shared with those who have a legitimate need to know.

Documentation: Keep thorough and accurate records of the entire process, including the date and time of the drug test, the test results, any conversations with the employee, and the actions taken.

Employee Meeting: Schedule a private meeting with the employee to discuss the situation. Approach the conversation with empathy and respect.

Discuss Results: In the meeting, present the results of the drug test and allow the employee an opportunity to explain their side of the story. There could be legitimate reasons for a false positive or other issue that need consideration.

Review Consequences: Based on your company’s policy and applicable laws, discuss the potential consequences of a failed drug test. Consequences could range from a warning to suspension, referral to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), referral to a DOT qualified SAP, or termination, depending on the severity of the situation, the type of job, and the policy in place.

Follow Policy: Implement the consequences outlined in your company’s policy consistently and fairly. Ensure that any actions taken are in line with your legal obligations and company guidelines.


Follow Up: If the employee is allowed to continue employment after a failed drug test, schedule regular follow-up meetings to monitor their progress and ensure they’re adhering to any necessary corrective measures.

Continuous Improvement: Use the situation as an opportunity to review and refine your company’s drug testing policy and procedures. Consider whether any changes are needed to prevent similar situations in the future.

Remember that employment laws and regulations may vary by jurisdiction, so it’s important to consult with legal professionals who are familiar with your local laws and regulations to ensure that your actions are compliant.

What to Do after an Employee Fails a Drug Test

If an employee refuses or fails a drug test, they must be removed from safety-sensitive job duties immediately. They will need to work with a Substance Abuse Professional and complete the Return-to-Duty process. This may include counseling, substance abuse treatment, educational classes, and other steps based on the employee’s specific circumstances.

After the employee completes their RTD, they will need to pass a follow-up drug test. They will also be subject to six random drug tests in the first year after their SAP program. This process is designed to ensure that the employee maintains a safe, drug-free work environment.

Does an Employer Have to Fire an Employee for Failing a Drug Test?

The Department of Transportation gives each employer control over whether to terminate, suspend, or re-hire an employee after failing a drug test. Employees cannot return to safety-sensitive job duties until they have completed their SAP program. The state of employment after that is at the employer’s discretion.

Connect with a Substance Abuse Professional near You

If you’re looking for DOT-qualified SAPs to direct your employees to, American Substance Abuse Professionals has a network nationwide. Approximately 85% of our clients are able to return to work after a failed drug test.

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About the Author: Cory Weinberg

"Alcohol evangelist. Devoted twitter guru. Lifelong coffee expert. Music nerd."

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