Are Random Drug Tests Really Random?

Random drug testing is required for all DOT-regulated jobs. This means that any employee can be drug tested at any time. If you’ve ever felt singled out by a drug test, you may be wondering, “Are random drug tests really random?” Let’s explore some of the policies in place so you can better understand the selection process. 

The DOT Requires Random Drug Tests to Be Truly Random

According to a DOT booklet titled What Employees Need to Know about Drug & Alcohol Testing, “Under DOT regulations, employers must use a truly random selection process. Each employee must have an equal chance to be selected and tested.” If your job is regulated by the Department of Transportation, random drug tests are really random. It’s that simple. 

Here’s how the selection process works for random drug testing:

  • Employees are grouped together based on their job function, not their ranking within an agency. For example, the Federal Railroad Administration often groups employees based on the train they work on. 
  • Everyone within the selection pool has an equal chance at being chosen for random drug testing.
  • The agency uses a scientifically valid random selection process to choose employees for drug testing. This may be a random number table, a computer-based number selector, or a similar tool. Employers are not allowed to pull names from hats, throw darts, or use other methods that have significant room for human influence. 
  • The employer notifies selected employees, and they must immediately cease safety-sensitive duties and report to the testing facility. Contrary to popular belief, there is no two-hour window for DOT drug testing. Employees must produce their specimen right away. 
  • The names of all tested employees are returned to the selection pool. This means that employees can be selected for random drug tests back-to-back. 

How Often Are Random Drug Tests Administered?

The Department of Transportation recommends that employers conduct random drug testing at least once per quarter. However, each industry has an annual quota to meet for drug testing. This means that some employees may be subject to more frequent testing than others. Employers are told to spread testing dates out throughout the year in a non-predictable pattern. In other words, they can’t have ‘random’ drug tests on the first Tuesday of every month. That would defeat the purpose of the randomization. 

The goal of random drug testing is to ensure safety-sensitive workers are able to do their jobs correctly, while preserving the safety of themselves and others. Random drug testing seeks to find employees that are not adhering to DOT guidelines. The DOT encourages employers to maintain the element of surprise as much as possible, with regards to both the timing and who is going to be selected for a test. 

Can I Be Selected for More Than One Random Drug Test?

Because random drug testing is really random, it’s entirely possible for you to be selected for more than one random drug test. This doesn’t mean that your employer is targeting you or that you are doing anything wrong. It simply means that you were randomly selected multiple times. On the flip side, it’s possible that you’ll never be selected for a random drug test. There is no way to predict if or when you could be chosen for a DOT 5 panel drug test. 

Can I Refuse a Random Drug Test?

You can refuse a random drug test, but that will be considered an automatic failure. If you plan to contest the selection altogether, you should still take the test so you can continue working. Otherwise, you will be removed from safety-sensitive job duties and be required to complete a SAP program for re-entry. Learn more: What Happens If I Refuse to Take a DOT Drug Test?

What Should I Do If I Fail a Random Drug Test?

If you fail or refuse a random drug test, you must complete the Return to Duty process (RTD) before returning to work. This involves meeting with a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) and getting a personalized RTD recommendation. You may be asked to complete counseling, training classes, drug treatment programs, and other steps before returning to work. Then you will complete a follow-up drug test to be released for safety-sensitive job duties.American Substance Abuse Professionals has over 5,000 DOT-qualified SAPs throughout the country. Our goal is to help you return to work after a failed drug test, no matter if it’s a random drug test, a pre-employment drug test, or anything else along those lines. We have an 85% success rate at getting clients back into work through RTD.