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New FRA Drug & Alcohol Testing Regulation Goes into Effect
5 mins read

On March 4, 2022, the drug and alcohol testing regulations mandated for FRA employees will be expanded to include mechanical employees who perform mechanical tests or inspections on behalf of the railroad. According to the final rule, these employees conduct tests and inspections to ensure equipment is safe and operating properly and are often the last set of eyes on a piece of equipment before it is deemed safe for use. 

 Because of this, and the catastrophic damage that could occur if equipment fails, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT Act of 2018) mandated for these employees to be included in a DOT regulated drug and alcohol testing program. Employers have 60 days after the rule goes into effect to submit testing plans for their mechanical workers to the FRA.  

 According to the final rule, the benefits of this mandate will come from “reducing the number of mechanical employees who have a substance use disorder (SUD). FRA has determined that testing programs provide a deterrent effect to the misuse of alcohol and use of illicit drugs. This deterrence will reduce the number of existing mechanical employees with an SUD. Employee SUDs have an array of associated costs, including lost productivity, absenteeism, low morale, increased illness, and accidents.” 

 Testing rates for mechanical employees will be set at 50% for drugs and 25% for alcohol, which are subject to change annually. It’s important to point out that these rates are different (and higher) than testing rates for all other FRA employees. For the purpose of setting future testing rates, the agency will create a database of positive tests and violation rates. Whether this database will be used exclusively by the FRA to establish testing rates, or whether it will be available to employers like the FMCSA’s DOT Clearinghouse, remains to be seen.  

What Does an FRA Compliant Drug & Alcohol Testing Program Include?

In order to fully understand all the components of a compliant drug and alcohol testing program, it’s important to become familiar with each type of DOT drug and alcohol test. 

Pre-Employment Drug Testing 

After you’ve decided to hire an applicant, you must send them for a pre-employment drug test.   Under no circumstances can a new hire begin working until you’ve received a verified negative drug test result. 

 The FRA does not require pre-employment alcohol testing. If you do decide to administer a pre-employment alcohol test, you will need to do alcohol tests for all subsequent applicants. 

Random Drug & Alcohol Testing 

According to the new regulation, all FRA mechanical employees must be subject to random unannounced drug and alcohol tests. After receiving a negative pre-employment drug test result, these employees must be added into a random testing program. Because the FRA has specific requirements as to how random testing programs must be administered, most companies employ a Third Party Administrator (such as Foley) to manage their random testing program. 

Reasonable Suspicion Drug & Alcohol Testing  

When an employer suspects that an employee may be abusing drugs and/or alcohol, the first thought is that they have to get the individual tested. Because of Employee Rights and subsequent legal repercussions, however, the FRA has strict regulations as to when testing can be administered.  To ensure employee rights are protected, at least one employee must complete training in reasonable suspicion regulations.  At Foley, we provide reasonable suspicion training as part of our comprehensive drug and alcohol program.  We also have a stand-alone product here. 

Drug & Alcohol Testing Policy 

The FRA requires all employers to implement a Drug & Alcohol Policy that each employee reviews and signs. These policies must be detailed and specific – another reason many employers opt to hire a Third Party Administrator for policy implementation. 

 If you’re required to enroll your mechanical employees into a compliant drug and alcohol testing program, it’s important for you to understand and implement each part of these regulations to avoid significant fines. If you need help getting your program set up, please contact us and we’ll be happy to help. 


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