On 2 May 2023, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) published a final rule amending its regulated industry drug testing program to allow for oral fluid testing. This new final rule provides employers with the option of using either urine or oral fluid tests. The rule requires oral fluid testing for transgender or nonbinary individuals and in situations where a same-gender technician cannot be found. The new rule will become effective on June 1, 2023, but employers will have to wait for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to certify two laboratories capable of processing oral fluid tests.
What is Oral Fluid Testing?
Oral fluid testing is a drug test that uses the donor's saliva to test for controlled substances. These tests offer advantages over other types of tests, such as urine or hair follicle tests. One significant advantage of oral fluid testing is that it detects recent drug use better than other forms of tests. Drugs can be detected in a donor's saliva immediately after they are used, making the detection window shorter than urine or hair follicle tests. Additionally, oral fluid collection is directly observed by a laboratory technician, making the sample less susceptible to adulteration or tampering.
However, oral fluid testing has some disadvantages that employers may want to consider when deciding whether to add it to their testing policies. For example, drugs do not remain in oral fluids as long as they do in urine or hair follicles, so the detection window is shorter. Also, oral fluid testing is a newer test, so it has not been subjected to the same legal scrutiny as urine or hair follicle testing.
Other Changes in the Final Rule:
The DOT's final rule also changed the procedures for “opposite gender observers” and “transgender or nonbinary employees.” The rule now requires employers to conduct oral fluid tests for all direct observation collections involving transgender or nonbinary individuals. The rule also mandates the use of oral fluid tests in situations when a direct observation test is required, but a same-gender lab technician cannot be found.
Implications for Employers:
Employers now have the option to choose either urine or oral fluid tests for all DOT-regulated drug tests, including pre-employment, random, reasonable suspicion, post-accident, follow-up, or return-to-duty tests. To ensure consistency, employers may want to create a standing order with their collection sites detailing what kind of test should be performed and when. For example, an employer may want to use urine tests for all return-to-duty tests and use oral fluid tests for any follow-up tests.
Employers who choose to use oral fluid testing may want to update their current DOT drug testing policies to incorporate the new tests and the new procedures for direct observation tests. It is essential to ensure that these new policies comply with DOT regulations and are communicated clearly to employees.
The DOT's final rule allows employers the option of using oral fluid testing for regulated industry drug testing programs. Oral fluid testing offers advantages over other types of tests, but employers should consider its disadvantages before adding it to their testing policies. Employers may want to update their current DOT drug testing policies to incorporate the new tests and procedures for direct observation tests. Employers should work with their collection sites to create a standing order detailing what kind of test should be performed and when.
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Abby Willroth is a NAADAC-qualified Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) located in Central Arkansas. "If you have questions concerning the DOT Alcohol & Drug Testing Regulation, the Role of a SAP or the Return-To-Duty process, ASK A SAP!"