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FAQ for the SAP Process

FAQ for the SAP Process

Substance Abuse Professionals and Return to Work FAQs

Q: What is the SAP process?

A: After you have been referred as a consequence (positive test) for engaging in substance use related conduct according to the Department of Transportation (DOT) Rules and Regulations 49 CFR Part 40, the following will occur:

  1. You have been notified by a Medical Review Office (MRO) that your test results are positive for drugs or you have refused to test, either by leaving the testing site, adulterating or substituting the sample or the Breathalizer Alcohol Technician (BAT) notified you of a positive alcohol test.
  2. The MRO will advise that a split sample can be tested on a positive laboratory result. The donor and only the donor has 72 hours to request a split sample be sent to a different laboratory for testing. If the sample comes back with the presence of the specified drug, at any level, it is a confirmed positive. If the sample fails to show the presence of the drug originally identified, the test is cancelled by the MRO.
  3. DOT mandates that you be given a list of Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs) for a face to face evaluation in resolving problems associated with misuse of alcohol or the use of controlled substances.
  4. Your SAP must recommend education or treatment. Your employer, and you will be given a written recommendation specifying the appropriate level of care, and approximate duration of education/treatment.
  5. The SAP will provide you with the appropriate referral which is consistent with clinically evaluated needs and can take into consideration your insurance coverage, your ability to pay for care, but regardless of coverage or ability to pay, you must complete the recommendation. The SAP will monitor your progress in the education and/or treatment process through contact with the respective provider(s).
  6. If you have been terminated from employment, but are pursuing the evaluation in hopes of obtaining another safety sensitive position, the SAP’s recommendation may be provided to you and a copy retained for any future employer.
  7. As a donor/client, you are expected to participate in treatment as outlined by the treatment provider and the SAP. If you resist or fail to comply, the treatment provider would discharge you for non-compliance and report same to the SAP. This course of action would prevent you from working in a safety sensitive position.
  8. The SAP will hold a face to face follow-up evaluation to review your compliance with the initial treatment recommendation. You will be required to follow the aftercare as outlined by the SAP and specified in the follow-up letter to your employer.
  9. The SAP will submit in writing to your employer a summary outlining the initial assessment and participation in treatment. The SAP will specify to the employer that you must pass an observed return to duty test for drugs or alcohol, plus specify a mandated DOT follow-up testing schedule. You are prohibited by regulation from knowing the follow-up testing schedule.

Q: Does an employer have to terminate an employee who violates a DOT drug or alcohol regulation?

A: No. That is a decision that the employer has the discretion to make, subject to collective bargaining agreements or other legal requirements. There is nothing in 49 CFR Part 40 that mandates an employer continue your employment.

Q: What is a SAP?

A: A SAP is a Substance Abuse Professional that, per DOT prerequisites, has specific credentials, meets qualification-training requirements including continuing education activities and demonstrates a basic knowledge and understanding of the DOT regulations that must be followed before an employee with a DOT violation can be considered for return to safety-sensitive functions in the transportation industry.

The SAP is not an advocate for the employer or employee. A SAP’s primary concern is to ensure public safety in the event the employee returns to his/her safety-sensitive position.

Q: Can Any Drug & Alcohol Counselor Evaluate Me?

A: No. Only a Qualified SAP may evaluate you in order to meet Federal regulations and requirements. If a non-qualified counselor evaluates you then your return to work will be delayed.

Q: What should I Consider When Searching for a SAP:

A: Entering into the SAP process is a commitment on your part. If you wish to remain in a safety-sensitive job within any DOT regulated position, it is necessary. It is important to remember:

  1. Your choice of a SAP is final. You cannot get a second opinion or re-start the process with another SAP.
  2. A SAP’s decision is final which means you/your employer must accept their treatment and/or education recommendation. If your health insurance or employer does not cover the recommended plan and you can’t pay out-of-pocket then your only option is to seek employment outside the transportation industry.
  3. The time that has passed since your DOT violation, changes in your life, prior treatment, or ‘unique’ reasons why you tested positive, will not modify the SAP process.
  4. No matter how remote your residence is, or the distance to the SAP’s office, the return-to-duty process cannot be reduced, an alternate counseling program cannot be used, and evaluations can never be done by telephone.


Q: Who pays for the DOT drug or alcohol test or SAP recommended treatment/education, the employer or employee?

A: The Department’s regulations are silent on who is responsible for paying for the testing, SAP evaluation or SAP recommended treatment/education. Payment may be based an understanding between the employer and employee, including applicants for safety-sensitive positions. An employer may not, however, refrain from sending a “split specimen” for testing because the employee does not pay for the test in advance. Nor can a SAP withhold the follow-up report to the employer due to non-payment.

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