Drug and Alcohol Testing: A Cautionary Tale

Did you see the FAA’s recent proposed drug and alcohol testing violation civil penalty?

In April, the FAA proposed a six-figure civil penalty ($142,750 to be exact) against GoJet Airlines, LLC of Bridgeton, MO, for allegedly violating drug and alcohol testing regulations. The FAA alleged six GoJet employees performed safety-sensitive jobs without being included in the company’s random drug and alcohol testing pool. The FAA also alleged two employees selected for random drug and alcohol testing received drug but not alcohol tests. As is customary, GoJet had 30 days from receipt of the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond.

I don’t know any details about this specific case.  I mention it here merely to demonstrate how drug and alcohol violation penalties can multiply to enormous numbers.

Most Part 135 operators I work with take their drug and alcohol testing programs very seriously and pay special attention to new hire safety-sensitive employees and their random testing requirements. But even the most diligent companies are vulnerable to a particular oversight: moving a current nonsafety-sensitive employee to a new position that is safety-sensitive or changing an individual’s responsibilities to include safety-sensitive tasks without adding the employee to the random pool.

  • 120.109(a)(2) states, “No employer may allow an individual to transfer from a nonsafety-sensitive to a safety-sensitive function unless the employer first conducts a pre-employment test and receives a verified negative drug test result for the individual.”

You might think it’s better to just include every employee in your FAA-approved drug and alcohol testing program in order to avoid any slip ups but that’s likely to get you in a bind too. The FAA doesn’t have the authority to require testing of nonsafety-sensitive employees and can’t grant you that authority either. Further, the agency has accused companies of trying to “dilute” the random drug and alcohol testing pool by including employees not legally covered by the program.

Bottom line: Make sure your managers, human resources personnel, and others involved in promoting or transferring personnel or changing job responsibilities and descriptions understand the importance of abiding by pre-employment testing requirements and the potential severity of drug and alcohol testing violations.

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