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What Happens When You Fail a DOT Employment Drug Test?

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Failing a U.S. Department of Transportation drug or alcohol test, or refusing to be tested, can lead to suspension, dismissal, loss of professional certification or the cost of completing a mandated treatment program. It can also eliminate you as a new-hire candidate. Employers have no leeway regarding the consequences of failing. They must adhere to the rules outlined in "Part 40" -- Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 40 -- and other sections of the law under which their agency operates.

Second Chance

DOT testing relies on urine tests performed as split samples. One sample gets tested; the other serves as a backup for confirmation. The law lets you request to have the second sample tested by a different lab within 72 hours of learning you failed. The medical review officer assigned to your case contacts you if both tests come back positive. At that time, you can provide evidence that you take medication prescribed by a physician and prior to the test, took the proper dosage. The MRO will confirm your treatment and report that you passed if yours is one of the medicines known to create positive readings.

Consequences of Testing Positive

Testing positive for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates or PCP -- angel dust –- leads to immediate suspension as does having a blood alcohol level of 0.4 or more. You can't return to work in a safety-sensitive position in the transportation industry until you complete the DOT "return-to-work" requirements. This long, three-step process involves:

  • An evaluation by a DOT-qualified substance abuse professional, or SAP
  • Finishing the prescribed treatment plan to the SAP's satisfaction and
  • Passing a return-to-duty drug test

Impact of "Return to Work"

In his article on, substance abuse professional Richard Zimmer cautions that employees faced with participating in "return to work" may be liable for the cost upfront because employers and insurance companies don't always pay for SAP services. The employee then has to juggle having no income because of his suspension with paying for the treatment needed to get back his job.

Employers can set "no tolerance" substance abuse and possession policies that expand on the Part 40 Rule. Such a policy would result in termination, forcing you to change careers. However, your DOT drug-testing history follows you if you move to a DOT-regulated employer.

Pre-Employment Failure

Unless your future employer has a retest policy, the Department of Labor's Drug Free Workplace Advisor cautions that you lose your chance at a safety-sensitive position if you fail the required pre-employment DOT drug test. Failing this test also thwarts your prospect of transferring into a safety-sensitive job. Like those already employed and subject to random testing throughout their career regardless of seniority, you can ask for a confirmation test of your split sample.


Trudy Brunot began writing in 1992. Her work has appeared in "Quarterly," "Pennsylvania Health & You," "Constructor" and the "Tribune-Review" newspaper. Her domestic and international experience includes human resources, advertising, marketing, product and retail management positions. She holds a master's degree in international business administration from the University of South Carolina.

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