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DOT Ends Pre-Employment Alcohol Testing Requirement


May 1995

Under pressure from transportation industry groups and a federal court ruling to review the practice, Transportation Secretary Federico Pena announced that the Department of Transportation will not require transportation companies to test prospective employees for alcohol use ("Truckers Challenge to Pre-Employment Alcohol Tests," Drug Detection Report, Apr. 20, 1995, p. 1; "Court Voids Pre-Employment Testing Regs; DOT 'Misinterpreted' Statute," National Report on Substance Abuse, Apr. 27, 1995, p. 1; "Secretary Suspends Pre-Employment Alcohol Testing Regulations," National Report on Substance Abuse, May 25, 1995, p. 1).

On April 5, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the Department of Transportation had misinterpreted part of the Omnibus Transportation Employee Act of 1991 by requiring pre-employment alcohol testing (American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. the Federal Highway Administration, United States Department of Transportation, No. 94-1209 (4th Cir. 1995)).

The court ruled that the statute was ambiguous. The trucking industry and other mass transit industries are still free to conduct voluntary pre-employment alcohol tests. The court ruling and Pena's action do not apply to random drug and alcohol tests for current employees and pre-employment drug testing.

"Pre-employment testing was one of the least useful types of tests when dealing with alcohol," the court ruled. "Often a test result indicating alcohol use may only indicate bad judgment or bad timing (e.g. one notices an employment advertisement after having a beer and a hamburger for lunch, immediately applies and is tested)."

Pena announced the regulation change May 8. Trucking industry representatives were angered that Pena did not take swifter action on the change, as trucking companies had scrambled to comply with the regulations by May 1.

While most industry and interest groups were in favor of ending the regulation, the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association (SAPAA) and a few other groups spoke out in favor of keeping the regulation ("Various Industries Want to Halt Pre-Employment Alcohol Tests," Drug Detection Report, Apr. 20, 1995, p. 3; "DOT Will Ask Congress To Repeal Pre-Employment Testing Law," NewsBriefs, April 1995).

Earlier this year, Pena asked Congress to revisit the issue of pre-employment alcohol testing. Last year Pena postponed the effective implementation date for the trucking industry to comply with the regulation from January 1, 1995 to May 1, 1995.