How the national drug/alcohol clearinghouse could save you

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Updated Apr 15, 2013

drug testIn some senses, to read the comments under the recent story on the rule that would establish a national database of positive drug/alcohol tests for use of employers as a handy cross-check when considering a new hire, you’d think the world was ending. One commenter brought up the examples of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and authoritarian communism in Russia, which started out with “regulations” piling on, he wrote, then getting to a more salient point. “Companies need to take care of the problems. We are over-regulated already. My old company put one idiot drug dealer through two rehabs and he was still using and selling.”

The national test-results database would in fact be one tool to help those companies to “take care of the problems” on the front end, as I was reminded during a conversation with Rich Wilson of Trans Products Trans Services about some of his work helping customer carriers through FMCSA interventions. He told the story of an independent owner-operator who’d put on a second truck and hired a driver that, ultimately, was the cause of an FMCSA investigation of his operation.

“We’ve filed a Corrective Action Plan,” says Wilson of where the case stands today, and it looks like the owner-operator is in the clear — for now.

But not without a boatload of time and expense outlaid — hassle, as it were — clearing the whole mess up. Here’s what happened:

The new driver hire had previously been working for another small fleet in the owner-operator’s area. The small fleet’s owner “became rather sick and has since died,” Wilson says. “The driver knew his boss was going to pass away and started looking for another job.” The owner-operator in question “put on another truck for this driver. The owner-operator checked the driver out – what he didn’t know was that DOT had done an audit on the driver’s previous employer and this driver had had a positive drug test uncovered during the investigation.” When DOT came back to follow up and found that the driver’s employer had died, “they asked for a list of places where the drivers had gone,” says Wilson.

The owner-operator, then, “got the flag for a driver who doesn’t have the all-clear to return to work – they nailed him square to the wall.” The Corrective Action Plan filed with FMCSA now has the owner-operator providing drug and alcohol abuse training, though the driver in question is of course no longer with him.

“We’re kind of in this begging mode,” says Wilson. “We file the CAP with a lot of fat and we send that at the mercy of the decision makers to show that this guy is being compliant — and wasn’t really that out of compliance as it was. If a fine ultimately does come in, we can appeal that fine [for, hopefully, FMCSA to] cut him a break — most of the time they do, but because this is drug and alcohol, they’re tough on that.”

So here’s a guy offered the opportunity of a job, and he won’t tell anybody he has a positive drug test on his record. “My argument with FMCSA was, ‘Listen, [the owner-operator] did everything within his available legal regulatory powers — he did what he was supposed to do. In the defense of the national clearinghouse [for positive drug tests], that’s the very purpose of it, if it protects the carrier.”

Something to think about.