Avoiding Drug And Alcohol Testing "Gotchas"

Avioding Drug and Alcohol Testing Gotchas in Aviation Law

The drug and alcohol testing requirements of 14 C.F.R. Part 120 and 49 C.F.R. Part 40 continue to cause issues for aviation employers. An initial decision in a recent civil penalty action, In the Matter of Regency Air, LLC, highlights two areas of potential confusion and risk faced by an aviation employer.

In Regency the FAA assessed a civil penalty of $17,400 against the employer for alleged violations of drug and alcohol testing regulations in connection with its hiring and use of mechanics. As you may know, aircraft maintenance is a “safety-sensitive function” that may only be performed by an employee who is included in the employer’s drug and alcohol testing program. Regency appealed the FAA’s order and a hearing was held before a Department of Transportation Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) which highlighted several drug and alcohol testing “gotchas.”

In one instance, Regency argued that the mechanic performed his work as a favor to Regency and since Regency did not compensate the mechanic for the work, the mechanic was thus not an employee subject to drug and alcohol testing. However, the ALJ rejected that defense stating that an "employee is an individual who is hired, either directly or by contract, to perform a safety-sensitive function for an employer”, and an individual is “hired” for a safety-sensitive function when he or she is retained “as a paid employee, as a volunteer, or through barter or other form of compensation.” Thus, even though the mechanic was a volunteer working without compensation, he was still considered an employee when he was performing safety-sensitive functions on behalf of Regency.

Another issue in the case arose from a mechanic’s employment by two separate employers. Although the mechanic was included in the first employer’s drug and alcohol testing program, Regency had not added the mechanic to its program. In analyzing the issue, the ALJ initially observed that “an employer may use a contract employee without including the contract employee in its own drug and alcohol testing program if: (1) the contract employee is subject to testing under the contractor’s drug and alcohol testing program, and (2) the work is performed on behalf of that contractor. The ALJ then determined that the mechanic performed the work in question it was performed on behalf of the first employer as a contractor for Regency, and as a result, the mechanic did not need to be included in Regency’s drug and alcohol testing program.

Drug and alcohol testing regulations can be tricky and complicated. However, misunderstandings and/or non-compliance with the regulations are serious and potentially very expensive. If you have questions about the regulations or whether you are complying with the regulations please contact me and I will be happy to help or any professional aviation law attorney, but don't wait until it is too late.

Greg Reigel
Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP
9201 N. Central Expressway, 4th Floor, Dallas, Texas 75231
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E-mail:  greigel@shackelford.law
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