September 25, 2020

Clearing Up Clearinghouse Confusion

By Christine

Nearly a year after the opening of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, NDASA members continue to report some confusion among their clients and business partners when it comes to the federally mandated national database.

According to the FMCSA’s most recent report, 1,094,657 accounts have registered with the Clearinghouse since September. This includes more than 133,000 employers, nearly 11,000 Third Party Administrators (TPA) and 971,914 drivers who have signed up since last September – an encouraging number in under a year, especially with the disruption of COVID-19.

Yet, one of the most frequent misconceptions that TPAs and others continue to hear out in the field is that the Clearinghouse is voluntary.

“NDASA members often report that when they ask clients whether they have registered for the FMCSA Clearinghouse, the response is a quick ‘No, thank You’ because the client believes that the TPA is trying to sell them something,” explained NDASA Executive Director Jo McGuire. “They don’t realize that registering for the Clearinghouse is required by law.”

Here we provide some clarification on frequently reported Clearinghouse confusion:

Opting Out is Not an Option

According to the federal mandate, all drivers who hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial learner’s permit (CLP) and all employers of CDL drivers (including those who employ themselves as CDL drivers (owner-operators)), are required to register for the Clearinghouse. In addition, C/TPAS, Medical Review Officer (MROs) and Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs) must register to access drug and alcohol testing information they need to do their jobs.

There is no cost involved in registering for the Clearinghouse.

Get your Queries Straight

According to the law, commercial trucking employers must conduct annual queries for each CDL driver they employ.

There are two types of queries: a full query and a limited query.

Full Query – A full query allows the employer to see detailed information about any drug and alcohol program violations in a driver’s Clearinghouse record. An employer must obtain the driver’s electronic consent for a full query through the Clearinghouse in advance. A full query is required prior to employment, before the employer puts the driver behind the wheel. The pre-employment query is good for one year.

Limited Query – A limited query allows an employer to determine if an individual driver’s Clearinghouse record has any information about resolved or unresolved drug and alcohol program violations. It does not, however, release specific violation information. Drivers can provide a general signed consent to the employer for limited queries. A limited query must be run annually after the pre-employment query.

Know When to Act

Employers sometimes make the mistake of thinking they can forget about the Clearinghouse for a year once a query result comes back as “not prohibited.”

That is not necessarily true. For the first 30 days after a full query, an employer will be notified about any updates to the Clearinghouse record. Employers need to act immediately when they receive notification of new information. Likely, this means a violation has been reported to the Clearinghouse and the driver is now prohibited. The employer is responsible for making sure that a prohibited driver employed by them does not get behind the wheel.  

After 30 days of the original full query, employers are not automatically notified of updates to the Clearinghouse record. Therefore, it is prudent to run limited queries regularly to ensure that drivers are still in good standing.

TPAs are your Friend

Contracting with a qualified consortium or TPA saves employers time and headaches when it comes to the FMCSA Clearinghouse. It also protects the employer from liability by ensuring that they are following all processes and procedures that will keep them compliant.

However, contracting with a C/TPA is not required under the law unless you are an owner-operator. If an owner-operator is not leased onto anyone, they are required to make sure that a third party writes their reports and runs annual Clearinghouse checks on them. Owner-operators cannot run queries on themselves. 

A Note on COVID-19 and the Clearinghouse

Registration and participation in the Clearinghouse are still mandatory during the health emergency. However, data submission to the Clearinghouse will likely be affected by recent notices issued by FMCSA:

  1. FMCSA has issued a temporary waiver, effective through September 30, 2020, for pre-employment drug and alcohol testing of commercial drivers who are returning to work after being furloughed or laid off for more than 30 days.
  2. FMCSA urges employers to continue administering mandated random drug and alcohol testing as scheduled throughout 2020 when possible. However, if compliance is not possible because of closures or health and safety issues, and employers provide full documentation of why testing was not completed, the agency “may exercise discretion to determine not to enforce the minimum annual percentage random testing rates for drugs and alcohol.” 

In other words, employees are expected to make every effort to continue reporting to the Clearinghouse as they did before the pandemic. However, in certain, limited situations, FMCSA is allowing for some flexibility.    

As our members continue to become accustomed to the FMCSA Clearinghouse, we will probably come across additional misunderstandings. NDASA is here to help, please contact us and we will get your Clearinghouse questions answered.

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