Do I have to be Employed for the SAP Return-To-Duty Process and Follow-up Testing?

Since the CDL Clearinghouse database went live in Jan. 2020, we can track that around 60,000 drivers each year have received some drug and alcohol violation.

If these drivers want to get back to work, they must complete the return-to-duty process and be a part of a SAP program for follow-up testing.

However, many of these drivers are terminated by their employer. But, if they continue to work through the return-to-duty process, they are eligible to seek employment elsewhere.

Since the CDL Clearinghouse database went live in Jan. 2020, we can track that around 60,000 drivers each year have received some drug and alcohol violation.

This brings up a frequently asked question: If a CDL holder is NOT employed and can’t get employed but wants to continue the follow-up process, can this CDL holder contract a consortium/third-party administrator (C/TPA) to act as a DER and send this CDL driver for the appropriate follow-up testing plan?

The short answer: No, unless they become an owner-operator. We will explain why after a quick review of the process.

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

Find a DOT SAP:
SAPlist.com is the #1 source for finding a Substance Abuse Professional

After a driver receives a failed drug test result, they must begin the return-to-duty/SAP process which can be split into two major sections: the time to return-to-duty to drive again, and the time to finish the follow-up testing program for the next 12-60 months.

This process begins with an evaluation by a substance abuse professional (SAP), as required in the federal regulations in 49 CFR Part 40 Subpart O. This is often considered the SAP process.

A return-to-duty drug test is a single test required by the DOT after successful completing the SAP process.

Read more for additional details on the SAP process.

Return-to-duty testing can only be done when the driver is CURRENTLY EMPLOYED.

If the driver is not employed, they cannot start their SAP program until they are employed and will be performing a safety-sensitive function. Basically, their progress would be paused until they are employed again.

If the driver is an owner-operator and have a truck, they would use their Consortium/TPA to manage their SAP process and follow-up testing schedule.

But why?

Drug testing while employed in safety-sensitive work is an effective deterrent

Remember, after a driver finished the SAP process and can return to safety-sensitive work, they still must have unscheduled follow-up testing for at least one year.

The need to be employed to have follow-up testing has been a requirement of the regulations for more than 30 years.

There are three main reasons why this is important.

First, the federal agency does not have jurisdiction over the general public, or someone who is not operating under their jurisdiction. If the driver is no longer employed or is not an owner-operator, they are not required to follow federal regulations until they are back in a safety-sensitive function.

Second, a driver cannot know his or her follow-up testing schedule or how long it will be. If they did, this could allow the person in recovery to continuing substance abuse and time to stop so they are clean before the next follow-up test.

If a driver does not know how long the follow-up testing program could continue, that will help the driver remain free of substance abuse long-term.

For example, a SAP could recommend 6 follow-up tests in the first 12 months, and then follow-up tests in the third and fifth year. A driver would not know this, which makes the preventive nature of follow-up testing more effective.

Third, absent safety-sensitive work for an employer, the follow-up testing would not be effective.

While a C/TPA can handle this process for a self-employed owner-operator, the role of the employer and job function is very important to successful implementation and recovery.

The entire point of follow-up testing that produces negative results is to show that the driver can safely operate in DOT-regulated safety-sensitive work.

In other words, the stress of the job could be a reason why some drivers take drugs or drink heavily. If you are unemployed, this trigger is not be tested and might be easier for a driver to get through the follow-up program and later continue substance abuse while driving.

If you are currently unemployed and still must finish the return-to-duty or follow-up testing process, don’t be discouraged. There are many employers who will hire someone with a past refusal or positive test.

For help getting hired, it is often recommended to explain that you will pay for these directly observed tests instead of the potential employer.

For more information, contact us at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.

DOT Virtual SAP Assessments and Delayed Collector Requalification through June 2021

Looking for a DOT SAP?
SAPlist.com is the #1 source for finding a Substance Abuse Professional

DOT Virtual SAP Assessment

SAPs are allowed, if they voluntarily choose to do so, to conduct a remote “face-to-face” evaluation and assessment while this policy is in effect during the pandemic.

At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC) provided guidance about the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements for employers, employees, and service agents (collectors, MROs, SAPs). 

On April 4, 2020, ODAPC provided supplemental information specific to performing remote evaluations by Substance Abuse Professionals (SAP) and the re-qualification timelines for collectors, Medical Review Officers (MRO), Screening Test Technicians (STT) and Breath Alcohol Technicians (BAT), and SAPs.  

As of December 09, 2020, this statement is now effective through June 30, 2021.

Virtual SAP Assessments and Evaluations Allowed During Pandemic

Under federal regulations, the SAP must conduct a face-to-face, or in-person, assessment and evaluation of an employee who has violated DOT drug and alcohol regulations. 

ODAPC recognizes that conducting face-to-face assessments and evaluations during the pandemic may not be possible for certain individuals.

SAPs are allowed, if they voluntarily choose to do so, to conduct a remote “face-to-face” evaluation and assessment while this policy is in effect during the pandemic.

ODAPC recommends that, when a SAP conducts assessments and evaluations remotely, the format of the assessment be documented in the final report for reference.

ODAPC realizes that performing evaluations remotely may not provide as much information to the SAP as a face-to-face evaluation would, but believes remote evaluations are preferable to not performing the evaluations at all. 

SAPs who choose to conduct initial assessments and evaluations and follow up evaluations remotely should consider the following parameters:

  • The technology used should permit a real-time two-way audio and visual communication and interaction between you and the employee.
  • You should determine if the quality of the technology (e.g., speed of the internet connection, clarity of the display, application being used, etc.) is sufficient for you to gather all the visual (e.g., non-verbal physical cues) and audible information you would normally observe in an in-person face-to-face interaction.
  • You may only utilize the technology if your State-issued license authorizes you to do so and within the parameters of that authority.

Delayed Collector and Other Service Agents Requalification Is Allowed

Under federal regulations, collectors, MROs, STT/BATs, and SAPs are required to maintain their DOT required qualifications by completing refresher training courses to continue acting as service agents in the DOT drug and alcohol testing program. 

  • Collectors and STT/BATs must complete refresher training every five years
  • MROs must complete requalification training every five years, and
  • SAPs must complete 12 professional development hours every three years

DOT realizes that during the pandemic, these service agents may find it difficult to find the necessary resources (e.g., exam location or personnel to conduct mock collections, etc.) to meet their re-qualification requirements.

If a service agent is unable to meet their re-qualification due date while this statement of enforcement discretion is in effect, DOT will not consider it a non-compliance for purposes of starting a public interest exclusion proceeding against the service agent. 

DOT will consider these service agents qualified per Part 40 to continue providing the Part 40 required services while this policy is in effect.

Find a DOT SAP:
SAPlist.com is the #1 source for finding a Substance Abuse Professional


DOT Training

All fleets need to conduct proper and thorough pre and post trip inspections, which consists of implementing quality:

  • driver training that is ongoing and consistent
  • driver education, and
  • driver awareness of current and changing traffic laws

All of this will help prevent being targeted by the DOT at roadside inspections and is a valuable resource to ensure a healthy fleet, and compliant safety practices.

Our DOT trainers offer a variety of in-person or online training courses tailored to the specific needs or weaknesses of your company.


Interested in Training?

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.

Return-to-duty testing can only be done when the driver is CURRENTLY EMPLOYED. If the driver is not employed, they cannot start their SAP program until they are employed and will be performing a safety-sensitive function. Basically, their progress would be paused until they are employed again.

Do I Have to be Employed for the SAP Return-To-Duty Process and Follow-up Testing?

If the driver is an owner-operator and have a truck, they would use their Consortium/TPA to manage their SAP process and follow-up testing schedule.

It is more evident today for employers and drivers to understand this SAP process. With the new DOT Clearinghouse database tracking non-negative drug and alcohol testing data, nearly 60,000 drivers annually are being found with a positive drug or alcohol 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.

Find a DOT SAP:
SAPlist.com is the #1 source for finding a Substance Abuse Professional

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.

If the employee cannot pay for a test, it constitutes a refusal to test and the return to duty process starts all over with a new SAP assessment.

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.

Check out our industry library resources of 15 videos, 2 ebooks, industry links, and CNS In The News content.

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. 


For more information, contact us at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.