Guide to Gaining SAP Certification and Understanding the Return to Duty Process

SAP Certification

A Comprehensive Guide to Gaining SAP Certification and Understanding the RTD Process

With the escalating concern of substance abuse in our society, the role of a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) has become increasingly significant. SAPs are trained and certified professionals who evaluate individuals that have violated drug and alcohol regulations, particularly in the transportation industry. This blog post will guide you through the steps needed to acquire a SAP certification and explain the return-to-duty process.

Becoming a Certified SAP

To become a certified SAP, there is a specific procedure to follow:

  1. Acquire a National Certification: The first step is to obtain a relevant national certification. You must be a licensed or certified physician, psychologist, social worker, EAP professional, or drug and alcohol counselor certified by a national organization that provides credentialing services.
  2. Complete the Required Training: After obtaining your national certification, you’ll need to complete a Substance Abuse Professional Qualification Training. This course gives a comprehensive overview of the nationally recognized examination requirements.
  3. Pass a Validated National Examination: Upon completing the training, you’ll need to pass a validated national examination. This test ensures that you have a deep understanding of the DOT’s rules and regulations regarding drug and alcohol testing.
  4. Continuing Education: To maintain your SAP certification, you must complete 12 hours of continuing education relevant to performing SAP functions every three years.

Understanding the RTD Process

Once a DOT employee has violated the drug and alcohol regulations, they must go through the return-to-duty process before resuming safety-sensitive duties. This process is managed by a SAP and typically involves the following steps:

  1. Evaluation: The SAP conducts an initial evaluation to determine what assistance the employee needs to resolve problems associated with drug and alcohol use.
  2. Recommendation: Based on the evaluation, the SAP will recommend a course of education and/or treatment.
  3. Follow-Up Evaluation: After the employee completes the recommended program, the SAP will conduct a follow-up evaluation to determine if the employee has complied with the recommendations.
  4. Return-to-Duty Test: If the SAP is satisfied with the employee’s progress, they will authorize a return-to-duty test. This test must yield a negative result before the employee can return to safety-sensitive duties.
  5. Follow-Up Testing: Once the employee returns to duty, they will be subject to unannounced follow-up tests for a period determined..

SAP Certification

Understanding the Return-to-Duty Process for DOT

The Department of Transportation (DOT) plays a crucial role in ensuring safety on our roads. One key aspect of this is the “Return-to-Duty” process, which is designed to help drivers who have violated the DOT’s drug and alcohol regulations return to their safety-sensitive duties responsibly and safely. This blog post will shed light on this vital process.

Evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP)

The first step in the return-to-duty process involves an evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP). The SAP conducts a comprehensive assessment of the driver to identify any underlying issues related to drug and alcohol use. This evaluation is critical in determining the appropriate treatment or education plan for the individua.

Participation in Treatment or Education Program

Based on the SAP’s evaluation, the driver will be required to participate in and complete a prescribed treatment or education program. This could involve counseling, therapy, rehabilitation, or a combination of these options, tailored to the individual’s specific needs.

Passing a Return-to-Duty Test

Once the driver has successfully completed the recommended program, they must pass a return-to-duty drug and/or alcohol test. This test is crucial in verifying that the driver is free from substances and ready to return to their safety-sensitive role. It’s important to note that the DOT requires employers to keep return-to-duty documentation for five years, even with a negative return-to-duty drug test.

Follow-Up Testing and Monitoring

Upon successfully passing the return-to-duty test, the driver will be subject to unannounced follow-up testing for a period determined by the SAP, typically ranging from one to five years. This ensures continuous compliance with the DOT’s regulations.


The DOT’s return-to-duty process is a comprehensive and structured protocol designed to ensure that drivers who have violated drug and alcohol regulations can safely return to their roles. By understanding this process, employers and drivers can work together to maintain the highest standard of safety on our roads.


  1. FMCSA – Department of Transportation

  2. Safety Planner – FMCSA

  3. Lobdock

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