DOT SAP and Return-to-Duty Process

DOT SAP and Return-to-Duty Process | DOT Compliance | CNS

What is the return-to-duty and follow-up DOT SAP process?

After a driver receives a failed drug test result, they must begin the return-to-duty process in order to get back on the road, and then continue a follow-up testing process for the next 12+ months.

It is more evident today for employers and drivers to understand this SAP process. In the first two months, the new DOT Clearinghouse has calculated over 11,000 drivers found with a positive drug test result. These employees are now walking through the SAP and return-to-duty process before they can begin safety-sensitive functions.

This process begins with an evaluation of a substance abuse professional, as required in the federal regulations in 49 CFR Part 40 Subpart O.

Learn more about:
FMCSA Clearinghouse: What is it, common issues and FAQs

What is a DOT SAP?

The Substance Abuse Professional, or “SAP”, according to the DOT, is “a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.”

The SAP makes the important decisions on whether or not an employee is ready to drive a truck, school bus, oil tanker, train, airplane, subway car, or other regulated vehicles and how long the follow-up testing end education program should take.

How much does a DOT SAP program cost?

There are several different ways to evaluate the cost of the SAP process. There is the initial SAP examination fee, the education program, the DOT return-to-duty drug test, and the 6+ follow-up testing program.

Unfortunately, the length of the follow-up testing program can be 12 months to 5 years, depending on the SAPs recommendation. So it is hard to estimate a total cost.

On average, the SAP evaluation process can cost between $400 to $500. Drug tests average between $30 to $60 dollars each. The minimum SAP and follow-up testing program can cost an employer or the driver, depending on the company policy of who pays for the program, to be at least $700 for the first year.

How long is the DOT SAP program?

Each SAP program is customized for the person going through it, which can cause a wide range of time when estimating the length of a SAP program. However, this process can be split into two major sections: the time to return-to-duty, and the time to finish the follow-up testing program.

First, there is the SAP evaluation and return-to-duty process so a driver can get back to safety-sensitive functions. This process includes finding a qualified DOT SAP, the SAP evaluation, the SAP talking to a physician if the driver is convinced that a prescription could have caused a false-positive drug test, the length of time to finish an education treatment program,  the second SAP evaluation after completing the program, and passing a return-to-duty drug test. This whole process can take weeks to months to finish.

Second, there is the follow-up testing program. According to the regulations, the SAP is required to recommend a minimum of 6 unannounced observed drug tests in the first 12 months after returning to duty. However, the SAP can recommend a program of follow-up drug tests for as long as 5 years. A repeated failed or refused test could require the process to be started all over.

What is the DOT return-to-duty process?

Before an employee can return to duty for safety-sensitive functions, they must complete the return-to-duty process. Once a positive test result is found, the following steps are required:

  • Immediately remove the employee from safety-sensitive
  • Find a qualified DOT SAP and complete an initial SAP evaluation
  • Finish a SAP recommended education or treatment program
  • When finished, complete a second SAP evaluation
  • If the SAP report is good, complete a return-to-duty observed drug test

Once the DER receives the negative result, the employee can begin safety-sensitive functions again.

However, after the second SAP evaluation, a follow-up testing schedule is given to the DER. The follow-up testing schedule is a minimum of 6 unannounced observed drug tests within the first 12 months of returning to safety-sensitive work and can last up to 60 months, or five years, depending on the SAP recommendation. 


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