Drug Testing During COVID-19 Pandemic
Drug testing during the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but there are sporadic clinic closures and other concerns that should be addressed.
Many employers are wondering if employment drug testing will continue to be available and permitted throughout the course of various state shutdowns due to the coronavirus. COVID-19 is a national emergency, though stay-at-home orders vary by state. Nevertheless, health care clinics and laboratory patient service centers (PSCs) remain largely open across the United States. These facilities are the primary locations for drug testing and alcohol testing. Because they are largely unaffected by the state shutdown orders, the vast majority of drug testing and alcohol testing services are continuing to be available and uninterrupted.
Availability of Drug Testing Locations due to Coronavirus
There are some situations in which drug tests and alcohol tests are harder to obtain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although they are largely permitted to continue operating, an individual drug testing clinic or lab PSC has the right to shut down, and some have temporarily closed their doors. Some of the smaller clinics have only a few staff, and if they have called out sick, the clinic cannot open its doors. Other clinics, particularly those in areas hardest hit by the coronavirus and those with the strictest stay-at-home orders, have had so few patients that it has become economically untenable to remain open until the economy starts to open back up.
Type of Drug Tests affected by Social Distancing
For clinics which remain open, urine drug testing is still the predominant drug test method that remains available. Hair drug testing is also largely unaffected, so long as the clinic is open. Breath alcohol testing, because of the need for the technician to stand in close proximity to the donor while he or she exhales strongly, has become more limited. If you need to get a non-DOT breath alcohol test, you might consider temporarily substituting other types of alcohol tests. You should keep in mind that urine alcohol testing does pick up a longer period of time of retrospective alcohol comsumption as compared to a breathalyzer, which only detects if someone has alcohol in their system at the current time.
DOT Drug Testing During COVID-19
For DOT employers in the trucking industry, FMCSA has issued drug testing guidance to address certain situations in which companies are unable to complete required testing. This may happen due to:
To be clear, DOT has not relaxed any of its testing guidelines or requirements. Rather, they are simply acknowledging the fact that it may be more difficult to obtain the required tests. In these cases, it is the employer’s responsibility to document exactly what occurred to make it impossible for them to get the required DOT drug and alcohol tests. In the case of random testing, DOT has always encouraged companies to spread out the selections throughout the year. If you are enrolled in a random drug testing consortium like Health Street’s DOT random pool, the selections are automatically spread out for you. However, DOT advises that if you simply cannot send your people in for their tests during this emergency, document it carefully. Nevertheless, you are still responsible for making up the missed DOT random drug and alcohol tests during this calendar year.
In other situations, DOT is less flexible. For example, an employer may not allow a safety-sensitive employee to start working until they have successfully passed a pre-employment DOT drug test, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, state lockdown orders, or limited availability of drug testing locations. So, if you’re hiring truck drivers, perhaps due to increased demand because of rapidly changing consumer behavior, you still need to follow the old rules.