By Sharon Bottcher
This information is provided for educational purposes only.  Reader retains full responsibility for the use of the information contained herein.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, over 15 million people in the U.S. are dependent on alcohol(1). In the United States, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance, and addiction to alcohol has long been an issue in the United States and throughout the world. Alcohol abuse is not just a private matter that is confined to an individual’s home. Alcohol abuse costs employers, individuals and communities billions of dollars annually . The issues surrounding alcohol use and abuse are far reaching and complex, however, the use of alcohol testing in the workplace is an effective tool to ensure that a workplace is safe from the effects of alcohol use and abuse.

Why is alcohol testing essential?

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can affect a person’s finances, health, and personal, social, and/or family life. Each of these issue trickles into the workplace as they impact the employee’s home life. Compounding these issues and their impact on productivity, attendance, performance and healthcare costs, is the use of alcohol in the workplace. As with drug use, employees who are under the influence of alcohol tend to create an unsafe work environment and are the cause of many other issues that affect a company’s bottom line. Alcohol use and abuse is an issue that should not be ignored and is most certainly a necessary component of any a company’s drug/alcohol testing program.

DOT regulations and alcohol testing

Workplace alcohol testing is an effective tool for detection of alcohol use but it is also a powerful deterrent. Therefore, the federal government established regulations that require employers who fall under the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations to conduct alcohol testing. Although alcohol testing is not required for pre-employment, each agency under the DOT publishes annual testing rates for both drug and alcohol testing. Each agency that requires alcohol testing must test that group in accordance with the alcohol testing guidelines published in the DOT regulations. Although the DOT requires alcohol testing in other cases, notably, reasonable suspicion and post-accident testing require an alcohol screening and/or confirmation as detailed in the regulations.

Mandatory alcohol testing states

In addition to the DOT regulations that must be followed, some states have drug testing laws that are required for Non-DOT regulated employees. Some states permit alcohol testing, some make no mention of it, and some offer incentives for implementing alcohol testing. Many states require compliance with federal alcohol testing standards or other specific mandates for alcohol testing. Following are a few notable examples.

In Iowa, the statute requires the written policy to include the requirements of the testing devices, qualifications for personnel administering the screening devices and initial and confirmatory testing. These requirements must be consistent with the regulations adopted by the DOT governing alcohol testing and is required to be conducted pursuant to the federal Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act.

Minnesota law requires that a certified laboratory must conduct testing and that a confirmed positive specimen must be retained for six (6) months. With that, it is strongly suggested that employers implement blood testing for alcohol to meet this requirement and that each company doing business in Minnesota detail the alcohol testing requirements in their drug and alcohol testing policy.

In Oregon, employers are prohibited from requiring employees or applicants to submit to breathalyzer testing unless the individual consents to the test or unless the employer has reasonable grounds to believe that the employee is under the influence of alcohol on the job. When a breath alcohol test is used, it must be approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and conform to 49 CFR part 40 of the federal regulations.

Voluntary alcohol testing states

Some states offer workers compensation premium discounts for voluntary participation in a testing program by an employer. For instance, in Tennessee employers may require employees in non-safety-sensitive positions to be tested for alcohol when the test is based on reasonable suspicion. At the same time, employees in safety-sensitive positions may be tested for alcohol in post-accident, reasonable suspicion, fitness for duty and follow-up testing situations. The law approves both breath and saliva specimens for testing. Safety-sensitive positions have a required blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.04 or less. All other positions require a BAC of 0.08 or less. Remember, safety-sensitive positions are not only DOT, they can be company defined in both job descriptions and testing policies.

In Alabama, all methodology and procedures shall comply with 49 CFR Part 40. Breath is the preferred specimen for alcohol testing and requires a 0.08 BAC for regular employees and 0.04 BAC for safety sensitive employees.

Another example of alcohol testing requirements under the voluntary law is Kentucky. Kentucky’s voluntary law not only mandates alcohol standards to be followed as set forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it requires breath alcohol testing for pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, post-accident and follow-up testing situations.

Conclusion

Including alcohol testing as part of the testing program clearly offers undeniable benefits to both employers, employees and the community. What is not so clear-cut is understanding the requirements established by federal and state laws. In addition to consulting the appropriate departments within your organization in addition to legal counsel, reach out to the experts at Current Consulting Group, LLC to assist with the nuances and the development of a drug and alcohol testing policy to meet these specific requirements. Our knowledgeable and professional staff can be reached at 215-240-8204 or info@currentconsultinggroup.com.

(1) https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
(C) 2017 The Current Consulting Group, LLC – No portion of this article may be reproduced, retransmitted, posted on a website or used in any manner without the written consent of the Current Consulting Group, LLC. When permission is granted to reproduce this article in any way full attribution to the author and copyright holder are required.

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