Drug testing is a staple for most companies. All throughout Alaska employers implement some form of drug testing policy. It is not uncommon for companies to have multiple policies their employees must adhere to, but this is largely dictated by the type of employees a company has, or the type of work being performed. In addition to multiple policies, companies may also implement alternative testing methods such as hair testing or oral fluid testing. While these methods continue to grow in popularity in the drug testing industry, urine testing continues to be the industry standard for both federally regulated employees and non-federally regulated employees. When a company chooses to use urine tests for their drug testing program, regardless of employee type, employers will likely encounter a direct observation collection. It is important that employers understand what a direct observation collection is, and when this process is utilized.
Like many other aspects of drug testing, the Department of Transportation (DOT) sets the standard for all situations. When it comes to direct observation collections, the DOT clearly outlines the requirements for this process, and when it is required for a collection to be performed under direct observation. While it is possible for employers to deviate from these requirements for their non-regulated staff, most companies will mirror the requirements set in place by the DOT.
What is a direct observation collection? Direct observation is the process in which an observer will witness the urine pass from the donor’s body into the collection container. Additionally, for a DOT direct observation the donor must raise his or her shirt or blouse to just above the navel, lower their pants and underpants to mid-thigh, and complete a full rotation in view of the observer to ensure a substitution or adulteration device is not being hidden by the donor. Once a donor completes this rotation, he or she may return their clothing to its original state as long as the observer can continue to observe the urine pass from the donor’s body into the container. The observer is required to be the same gender as the donor. If a collector is not the same gender as the donor, the collector must instruct the observer on how the observation process is completed.
When is direct observation required? Direct observation collections occur under very specific circumstances. Non-regulated employees may be held to a different standard, likely outlined in the company policy. For DOT covered employees, direct observation can only occur under the following circumstances: if an employee attempts to tamper with his or her specimen at the collection site, the specimen temperature is outside of the acceptable range, the specimen shows signs adulteration, a substitution or adulteration device is discovered by the collector prior to the initial collection, a medical review officer orders the direct observation, or the reason for test is follow-up or return-to-duty. Under DOT regulations, direct observation collections are not authorized for any other reason.
Some may consider a direct observation collection an invasion of privacy, but it is the goal of the DOT and service agents to protect the integrity of the collection process. Without having a direct observation policy in place, it may be easy for an employee to substitute or adulterate their specimen. Companies that are performing DOT covered work are subject to direct observation procedures when required, and it is best practice for those with non-regulated testing programs to implement a similar policy to ensure that the drug testing program is held to the highest standards.