By Dr. Russell Kamer, Partners in Safety
The year started with worries about implementing the FMCSA Clearinghouse, but just as we got over that hurdle, we ran into a bigger problem. The novel coronavirus made all other worries seem minor. We faced several new challenges: how to keep our offices open, what to do about urine donors that don’t want to get tested, and finding other work for our employees while drug testing slowed down.
I co-founded Partners in Safety in 1993. We have offices in New York City, Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties. We provide full occupational medicine services, though the majority are DOT physicals and drug testing. The areas we serve were affected early and have some of the highest COVID-19 death rates, yet we never closed our doors. Early on, we made adjustments that are now common practice including spreading out and frequent sanitizing. I knew we were on the right path when someone left the online review, “Convenient and corona-free.”
One new wrinkle is judging whether a urine donor’s refusal to report/stay for a drug test because of fear of COVID is a legitimate excuse. Even though it is not the MRO’s function to make the final determination of refusal when a donor does not report or interferes with the collection process, I have gotten several calls from DER’s asking my opinion.
I refer to the FMCSA-released guidance for this situation:
If you have COVID-19-related concerns about testing, you should discuss them with your employer. FMCSA joins ODAPC in suggesting that employers respond to employee concerns in a sensitive and respectful way.
As a reminder, it is the employer’s responsibility to evaluate the circumstances of what may be considered an employee’s refusal to test and determine whether or not the employee’s actions should be considered a refusal as per 49 CFR § 40.355(i).
My opinion is that if a driver is currently working, it is hard to justify not getting the drug or alcohol test done. The DER may need to take extra time to verify that the collection site is taking additional safety precautions and explain those procedures to the urine donor. It helps if the collection site is not a facility that also sees sick patients, though those sites should also be able to provide precautions. On-site drug testing is another option.
In our facility, both our employees and urine donors must wear face coverings, pass a symptom screening questionnaire and a temperature check. Failure of a urine donor to comply with these procedures might also be a reason for considering the test a refusal, but the DER would have to make a case-by-case determination.
During the lull in drug testing, we took the opportunity to provide onsite temperature screening and respirator fit testing services for our clients. The drug and alcohol testing industry plays an important role in protecting essential infrastructure and we should be proud of staying at our posts during this pandemic.