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Safety-sensitive employees, such as drivers, are required by the Department of Transportation to have periodic drug and alcohol testing—but what happens if they fail that testing?

In short, they are required to leave their duties to undergo training and evaluation from a Substance Abuse Professional, or SAP. Note that the employer is required to tell the employee about the role of the SAP, and about the subsequent Return to Work process. The employer is not required to pay for these services.

Working with the SAP, the employee can begin working toward a return to the workplace—but what does this process entail, exactly? In this post, we’ll summarize the basic trajectory of the Return to Work program.

What to Expect in the Return to Work Program

  • First, the employee will meet with the SAP, who will try to diagnose their drug or alcohol addiction properly and to recommend a viable path forward. A written plan will be prepared, and may involve drug or alcohol testing, or both—just depending on the violation. The employee must follow this plan to the letter.
  • Depending on the nature and extent of the violation, the SAP may recommend some basic education, some limited drug and alcohol treatment, or even a full in-patient addiction rehab program.
  • In accordance with this plan, the employee will likely need to submit to some follow-up drug and alcohol testing, at a specified date or interval.
  • There may be unannounced drug screenings even once the individual returns to the workplace. Note that the dates of these screenings are determined by the employer—not by the SAP.
  • What happens if the employee changes employers during this time? The new employer is then required to complete any outstanding screenings, as directed by the SAP—assuming the new role is safety-sensitive. The employer will find out about these responsibilities through the employee’s federal background check.
  • Another important note for employers is that they are not obligated to do any of the SAP follow-up screenings until the employee returns to their normal, safety-sensitive functions.
  • How long will these screenings be required? Usually, for a year or so. The SAP may terminate the screenings based on his or her discretion. The SAP is the only person who is allowed to make these changes. At least six follow-up drug and alcohol tests are required.
  • These SAP-specified screenings do not replace the random drug tests conducted by the employer. The employee must still submit to these random tests, in addition to their screenings.

This is the basic outlook for anyone who is caught in drug or alcohol violation and wishes to return to their job under the Return to Work program. The employer plays a role in all of this, but note that most of the heavy lifting is done by the employee in collaboration with the SAP.

Finding an SAP in Orange County

Whether you are an employee seeking rehabilitation or an employer who wants to point workers in the right direction, it’s important to know where to turn for substance abuse professionals.

Experience Recovery is a drug and alcohol rehab center based in Orange County, California—and we are passionate about training SAPs who can assist with the Return to Work program. We can connect you to the services you need here in Los Angeles and beyond.

Get the assistance you need for returning to work, freed from drug or alcohol addiction issues. Reach out to the admissions team at Experience Recovery to learn more about this process.