What’s a SAP? The liaison between employees and the return-to-duty process!

therapist and patient in counseling session


When a safety-sensitive covered employee in a DOT-regulated organization fails a drug and/or alcohol test or refuses to test, they are required to complete the return to duty (RTD) process. DOT testing violations also apply to pre-employment candidates, not just employees. First, the employer must remove the employee/candidate from safety-sensitive duties, and then employee/candidate must start the process of connecting with a DOT-qualified Substance Abuse Professional to launch their RTD process.

A Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who helps DOT-regulated employees return to work after a DOT violation has occurred, such as a failed drug and/or alcohol test or a refusal to test. As described in the DOT employee handbook (DOT, 2019a), SAPs are the “gatekeepers to the re-entry program” – they determine when a safety-sensitive employee is prepared to return to work safely.

SAPs act as a neutral party and do not decide if an employee should be terminated or re-hired. Those decisions are up to the employer and their company policy. A SAP’s job is to assess and evaluate the employee to provide a personalized treatment and/or educational plan for each individual in alignment with DOT protocol. In DOT cases the primary client and mission for SAP’s is public safety.

A look into the SAP’s portion of the return to duty process:

Step 1. The SAP will conduct an initial evaluation and assessment face-to-face, which can now be done virtually or in person.

Step 2. The SAP must provide recommendations for treatment and/or education unique to each employee.

Step 3. The SAP will conduct a follow-up evaluation to determine if the employee successfully completed their recommendations. Based on the approval by the SAP, the employee is eligible for a RTD test with an employer.

In cases of pre-employment hires, an observed RTD test supersedes and pre-employment test. The employer or prospective employer would have the covered candidate/employee take the RTD test. Upon testing negative the employer can put the covered employee back into safety-sensitive duty. The SAP will also issue follow-up testing directly to the employer, which is announced and observed to the employee. The SAP can also recommend aftercare for the employee to complete.

Qualified DOT SAPs must maintain specific qualifications mandated by the DOT under 49 CFR Part 40.281. The ASAP Credentialing Team ensures documentation of updated licensure/certification, qualification training, examination, and continuing education for all ASAP providers.

Not all substance abuse counselors are qualified DOT SAPs. Only a qualified DOT SAP can determine an employee’s eligibility to return to DOT safety-sensitive duty, and our SAP Provider Network has a nationwide reach in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Our quality assurance protocols ensure that each SAP’s credentials are reviewed before they are assigned a DOT case and that each case is handled according to DOT regulatory compliance through our case management services.


Do you need Substance Abuse Professional Services?

ASAP has a nationwide reach in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Our trained and knowledgeable team will assist you in understanding the process and signing up. It’s fast and easy to enroll with ASAP! 888.792.2727 x607

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