DOT / SAP Evaluations Explained Step-by-Step

If you are a CDL holder—are employed as a truck driver, pilot, or similar safety-sensitive position—and failed a DOT alcohol or drug test at work or left the testing site before successfully giving a sample, your ability to work has been put on pause until you complete a DOT SAP evaluation. 

Your employer is under federal guidelines to immediately put your role on pause from safety-sensitive duties. Some employers will move the employee to non-safety-sensitive duties while the issue is being resolved.

Regardless, it is often unclear to the employee as to what to do next if they would like to stay at the same company or in the same occupation and work under DOT rules. The process for a rule violation, regardless of whether the employee had a positive test or not, is always the same, and this guide explains it step-by-step. It also walks you through perhaps the most essential question that’s crossing your mind—how long does a SAP program take to complete? 


What’s a SAP?

First, you need to find a SAP (Substance Abuse Professional) with training that qualifies them to evaluate you. The SAP must meet with you in person or by videoconference to assess your history and current status as far as alcohol or drug use are concerned. 

This meeting involves completing a questionnaire followed by an interview with a professional evaluator. 

Learn How Our DOT SAP Assessment Process Works


How Long Does the SAP Program Take? 

SAP programs have variable timeframes. 

Since employees will have different circumstances, there is no “formula” or standard "drug and alcohol class" for this process. It is the SAP's job to decide what is appropriate for each individual. 

However, after the first meeting, you should have a pretty good idea of how long your program is projected to last. Some individuals may only need brief educational intervention, while others may need weeks or months of treatment. 

The DOT requires all employees in a SAP program to complete some substance abuse education at a minimum. There is no such thing as "no recommendation" in a SAP evaluation. 

As you are engaged in fulfilling the recommendation given by the SAP, you can contact the SAP with questions or let the SAP know when you have finished. The SAP will need verification that you successfully completed the recommendation. You will need to provide written proof of completion or expect the SAP to communicate with the individual who provided services to you.

How the SAP Helps You

At the end of the first meeting with the SAP, you will be directed to participate in education, counseling, or treatment of some kind. The point of the first meeting is to choose an appropriate amount of intervention (education, counseling, or treatment). 

It is the SAP’s job to find local resources for you to fulfill this DOT requirement. The SAP, by law, cannot refer you to themselves or anyone in their place of employment. This protects you so you won't be referred for services in the financial interest of the SAP. 


It’s All About Safety

Once you have completed the recommendation, you must return to the SAP for a follow-up evaluation. This second meeting is an interview to discuss what impact the recommendations had on you and whether it is reasonable and safe for your employer to begin the return-to-duty process. Safety is the main concern of the SAP, the DOT, and your employer.

Getting Return-to-Work Paperwork

The SAP will prepare three documents for your return-to-work process.  

  1. The first is documentation of the initial evaluation and recommendations. 
  2. The second document indicates if you have complied with the recommendations and whether a safety-sensitive employer is allowed to return you to your normal duties after successful testing.  
  3. The third document is your follow-up testing schedule, which is prepared for the employer only since it contains your follow-up testing requirements.

Follow-up Testing

The follow-up testing schedule rules involve a minimum of 6 tests in the first 12 months of your return to work. After that, the SAP may set a testing schedule of any amount per 12-month period of safety-sensitive duty for up to 5 years total.

If you have tested positive for marijuana or cannabis products, you need to be particularly careful not to take a DOT return-to-duty drug test until you are certain you are not going to test positive for THC.

What If Someone Fails the SAP Program?


If the evaluator believes the person is unable to return to work, they typically will extend the time in the SAP return-to-duty process until they can reach a level of safety and stability. This allows them to be approved for a return-to-duty test. 

If someone is non-compliant, the SAP can also complete a non-compliance report. In this situation, the employee being assessed will need to restart the process with another initial evaluation when they are ready to return to work. 

Or, the employee may choose to stop applying for roles in the safety-sensitive field where DOT regulations apply and compliance is enforced. 

How Much Does the SAP Program Cost?

Costs vary depending on the provider. Please keep in mind, it helps to find a credible provider who has years of experience. 

For information on New Directions’ costs, please call 1-800-671-8589. Our team members will walk you through rates and the assessment process


What Happens After I Complete the SAP Program? 

After successfully completing a SAP program: 

  1. The employee should contact their human resources department safety coordinator or person in charge of alcohol and drug testing for the company. 
  2. The employee should let the company representative (also known as the DER or Designated Employer Representative) know they are ready to return to duty. Be sure the company representative communicates with the SAP who provided the evaluation, follow-up evaluation, and return to duty testing schedule. 
  3. The SAP will confirm the employee’s compliance and share the testing schedule with the DER. 
  4. The DER will then inform the employee of when they can report to a testing center for a DOT alcohol/drug test. 
  5. After proof of a negative test, the DER provides further instructions about the day, time, and any other procedures necessary to resume work. The DER or director of the company’s alcohol/drug testing program will oversee all the return-to-duty tests that need to be conducted according to the testing schedule. 

The SAP is no longer involved in the process other than sharing the original SAP evaluation compliance information with any new employers. Suppose the employee is seeking new employment at any time after the original SAP evaluation. In that case, they should provide the company representative (DER or safety/substance use testing program director) with the SAP's name and contact information. This allows the SAP to share the compliance and testing schedule documents with the DER. 

For greater detail on the follow-up testing period, visit or read below.


How Long Does a SAP Program Stay on Your Record? 

A SAP program generally stays on your record for five years. 

This timeframe can be longer if you stop your safety-sensitive job for a period of time and, as a result, stop receiving DOT tests. In this circumstance, the five-year clock halts until you are employed in a safety-sensitive position again.

If You Have More Questions…

There are many regulations involved in workplace testing and returning to work after a positive test or rule violation, but this blog covers the big picture of the process. If you have further questions regarding how long a SAP program is or the assessment process, call us today at  800-671-8589 for a free consultation. 

We have been serving DOT-regulated employees for the past 15 years. Read our DOT SAP program reviews for more information. 

Our team is happy to help you out, whether in-person or remotely online.