204 – Drug and Alcohol Policy

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Policy

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) shall be a drug-free workplace. This policy facilitates the ability of the agency to deter or otherwise detect and address usage of illegal drugs, prescribed drugs, alcohol, or other substances which may impair the ability of current or prospective employees to perform their jobs safely and effectively.

An outside certified lab has been contracted to perform all drug and alcohol testing as requested by the HCSO. The “Call-Out Procedure for Post-Accident and Reasonable Suspicion Drug and Alcohol Testing” shall be posted on the HCSO Intranet and provided to all bureaus.

This policy applies to all applicants for employment and every employee who works for the HCSO, with the exception of applicants and employees who are covered by the Drug and Alcohol Screening Policy for Commercial Drivers.

All applicants: Upon receiving a conditional job offer, every applicant, including an applicant for a part-time, grant, or contract position, is tested for the presence of the drug groups set forth in this policy. Applicants are not accepted for employment until negative test results are provided to the HCSO Human Resources director.

Safety-sensitive: Employees who work in safety-sensitive positions are subject to random testing for drugs and alcohol. Additionally, before assuming a safety-sensitive position, current employees must pass a drug test as required for all applicants.

Reasonable suspicion: Every employee is subject to testing if there is reasonable suspicion to believe that the employee has violated the prohibitions of this policy while in the course and scope of employment.

All applicants and employees must receive a copy of this policy or have access to review this policy electronically and must acknowledge in writing or by electronic signature that they have received and read the policy.

Definitions

Alcohol: The intoxicating agent in beverage alcohol, ethyl alcohol, or other low molecular weight alcohols including methyl or isopropyl alcohol.

Alcohol Concentration: The alcohol in a volume of breath expressed in terms of grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath as indicated by an evidential breath tester (EBT).

Applicant: Includes both an applicant for employment and an employee desiring to transfer from a non-safety-sensitive position to a safety-sensitive position.

Certified Laboratory: Any U.S. laboratory certified by the Department of Health and Human Services under the National Laboratory Certification Program to perform DOT drug and alcohol screening.

Conviction for a Criminal Drug Statute Violation: A finding of guilt or imposition of sentence, including deferred adjudication or probation, by any judicial body charged with the responsibility to determine violations of federal or state criminal drug statutes.

DOT: United States Department of Transportation.

Evidential Breath Tester (EBT): A device approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the evidential testing of breath at the 0.02 and 0.04 alcohol concentrations. This testing device is selected from among those listed on the Conforming Products List of Evidential Breath Measurement Devices published in the Federal Register from time to time by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Illegal Drug: Any drug that cannot be obtained legally in the State of Texas or any prescription drug that has not been legally obtained or that has been legally obtained and is not being used in accordance with the prescribed dosage. Examples of illegal drugs include, but are not limited to: cocaine, heroin, phencyclidine (PCP), inhalants, and cannabis substances such as marijuana and hashish.

Legal Drug: Any prescribed drug or over-the-counter drug a person has legally obtained, is legal to possess in the State of Texas, and is using in accordance with the prescribed or recommended dosage.

Medical Review Officer: A licensed physician retained by Harris County to receive laboratory results generated by this policy who is responsible for interpreting and evaluating a confirmed positive drug test result. The medical review officer may be an employee of the laboratory conducting the testing if the laboratory establishes a clear separation of functions to prevent any appearance of a conflict of interest, including assuring that the medical review officer has no responsibility for, and is not supervised by, or the supervisor of anyone who has responsibility for the testing of quality control operations of the laboratory.

Possession: To have on one’s person, in one’s personal effects, in one’s vehicle, or under one’s care, custody, or control.

Reasonable Suspicion: An articulable belief based upon specific facts or incidents and reasonable conclusions drawn from those facts or incidents. Facts or incidents which constitute reasonable suspicion may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Observation of alcohol or illegal drug use;
  2. Observations of alcohol, illegal drugs, or drug paraphernalia on the person or within an area under the person’s immediate control;
  3. A pattern of abnormal or erratic behavior, including the observation of physical symptoms of alcohol or illegal drug use; or
  4. An employee’s involvement in either:
    • A work-related accident or
    • A vehicular collision while operating a vehicle as defined in this policy AND where there is also reason to believe that the employee may have been at fault in causing the accident or vehicular collision (e.g., if the employee was issued a moving citation in connection with a collision or the employee exhibits some observable signs of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs).
  5. When an employee receives notice to submit a specimen for testing and fails to report to the designated testing location and provide the specimen as required.

Safety-Sensitive Position: A position involving job duties which, if performed with inattentiveness, errors in judgment, or diminished coordination, dexterity, or composure, may result in mistakes that could present a real or imminent threat to the personal health and safety of the employee, coworkers, or the public.

Employees who operate a vehicle as part of their regularly assigned, routinely performed job duties are in safety-sensitive positions.

The HCSO provides a list of safety-sensitive positions that are subject to random testing to the county’s Human Resources and Risk Management director or his or her designee, who maintains a master list of safety-sensitive positions subject to random testing.

Employees are notified that they hold safety-sensitive positions and are subject to random drug and alcohol testing.

Training: The office of Human Resources and Risk Management conducts training and education programs for employees and supervisors, including a drug-free awareness program designed to inform employees about the dangers of drug and alcohol use or abuse and the county’s policies concerning substance abuse.

Under the Influence: Having a detectable amount of alcohol or illegal drugs in the bloodstream.

Vehicle: Any motorized equipment, whether county-owned or not, used on public or nonpublic roadways or rights of way in the course and scope of employment. This specifically includes, but is not limited to: tractors, lift trucks, buses, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), boats, and automobiles.

Procedure – Prohibitions

Employees are prohibited from reporting for work or remaining on duty or working extra employment with an alcohol concentration of 0.02 or higher. In addition, employees are prohibited from using illegal drugs.

Employees in safety-sensitive positions are prohibited from performing safety-sensitive functions within four hours after drinking an alcoholic beverage regardless of the alcohol concentration in their breath.

If an employee is in a safety-sensitive position, and he or she has consumed an alcoholic beverage within four hours of reporting for work, he or she must notify his or her direct supervisor of such consumption, regardless of the alcohol concentration in his or her breath, prior to commencing work so that the supervisor can ensure that the employee will not be engaged in any safety-sensitive functions.

Exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis by the Sheriff or his or her designee for a lawful, department-authorized, law enforcement purpose.

No HCSO employee shall be charged with, indicted in, convicted of, or willfully violate any federal statute, state law, or local ordinance, except minor traffic offenses (HCSO Policy #303, “Conduct Prohibited”).

In addition to the offenses set forth in the Texas Penal Code, the use, possession, distribution, or sale of alcohol or illegal drugs by any employee during working hours, while on county property, or while operating or riding upon vehicles while in the course and scope of employment is prohibited unless the Sheriff or his or her designee has granted the employee an exception for a lawful, department-authorized, law enforcement purpose.

Employees shall immediately notify their supervisor or designated bureau representative of an arrest for a criminal drug offense or an offense of driving while intoxicated and within five days of any subsequent conviction.

The supervisor or designated bureau representative must then report the conviction to the bureau commander and the Human Resources director.

It is not a violation of this policy for any employee with a current, valid prescription for a drug to use, possess, or be under the influence of such drug in the manner and for the purposes prescribed if such use does not affect the employee’s performance or create a risk to the safety of the employee or others. Employees are responsible for learning of the possible effects of prescription and non-prescription drugs that they use while working.

The HCSO may, at its discretion, require employees in safety-sensitive positions to refrain from working while taking any drug or medication or require such employees to obtain written authorization from their physician regarding their ability to perform their essential job duties safely while taking the medication.

Employees who are in safety-sensitive positions who take prescription or non-prescription drugs that may impair their senses or render them under the influence must notify their supervisor prior to commencing any job duties.

Consent to Drug and Alcohol Screening

Anyone tested pursuant to this policy must sign a consent form authorizing the drug and alcohol screening and permitting limited disclosure of the results. The results may be disclosed to the HCSO Human Resources director or other persons designated to receive such sensitive information. The consent form contains the following information:

  1. Acknowledgment that the applicant or employee has been notified of the drug and alcohol screening policy,
  2. The consequences of a refusal to have the drug and / or alcohol screening,
  3. The procedure for confirming a positive test result, and
  4. The consequences of a confirmed positive test result from the drug and / or alcohol screening.

Testing Procedures for the Drug Screening

Urine samples are tested at a certified laboratory to detect the prohibited drug levels listed in Section X of this policy. All drug tests are conducted at the county’s expense with the exception of the split specimen tests discussed in Section XIV.

The laboratory conducting the test maintains written procedures in accordance with DOT requirements to ensure privacy, prevention of tampering, and chain of custody methods, including correct identification, labeling, and storage of all test samples.

A copy of these procedures is available at the laboratory to each job applicant and employee upon request.

The laboratory certifies that methods of analysis are state of the art, including the use of immunoassay techniques for initial test results and gas chromatography / mass spectrometry for confirmatory test results.

A medical review officer receives, reviews, and interprets drug test results; confers directly with the applicant or employee to determine alternate medical explanations for positive test results; and notifies applicants, employees, and the HCSO Human Resources director or designee of confirmed, positive drug test results.

Testing Procedures for the Alcohol Screening

Alcohol breath testing is conducted at a certified laboratory unless it is agency-required random alcohol or drug screening or extenuating circumstances require the utilization of a portable breath tester (PBT) or other device or facility. All alcohol breath tests are conducted at county expense.

NOTE: An extenuating circumstance shall mean the certified laboratory is unable to process the test within the specified amount of time requested.

An evidential breath tester (EBT) is used to detect and measure the presence of alcohol. If the result of the initial screening EBT test is an alcohol concentration of 0.02 or greater, a confirmation EBT test is performed after the expiration of a period of not less than fifteen minutes to confirm that the test has properly measured the alcohol concentration. The confirmation test performed on an EBT meets the requirements set out in 49 CFR Part 40.

All alcohol tests are conducted by breath alcohol technicians trained in using EBTs and alcohol testing procedures as evidenced by successful completion of a course of instruction which, at a minimum, provides training in the principles of EBT methodology, operation, and calibration checks, the fundamentals of breath analysis for alcohol content, procedures for obtaining a breath sample, and interpreting and recording EBT results.

The HCSO Human Resources director or designee receives the EBT results and notifies the employee or applicant and bureau designee of the results.

Reasonable Suspicion Testing

A drug and alcohol test must be conducted within two hours of any event defined in Section II (L), “Reasonable Suspicion.” If the tests are not administered within two hours, the supervisor or designated bureau representative must document why the tests were not administered in a timely manner and forward a copy of the explanation to the bureau commander for review and the Human Resources director to be placed in the employee’s separate medical file.

Employees are responsible for notifying their supervisor or designated bureau representative as soon as medically practical after every event defined in Section II (L)(4). Failure to notify the supervisor or designated bureau representative may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Employees are subject to testing if, while in the course and scope of employment, there is reasonable suspicion to believe that they are in violation of this policy. Supervisors who suspect that an employee is violating the policy must immediately contact any shift commander and provide a written request to test the employee for alcohol and / or drugs.

The written request must set out the specific facts, symptoms, or observations that form the basis of the determination that reasonable suspicion exists to test the employee.

Upon receipt of the written request, the shift commander shall determine if reasonable suspicion exists and sign the request, allowing for the alcohol and / or drug testing to proceed.

Once approved by the shift commander, the requesting supervisor shall contact the certified laboratory and provide them with the approved request form and all detailed information necessary to proceed with the alcohol and / or drug testing.

NOTE: In the event the certified laboratory is unable to perform the testing procedure within the specified amount of time requested, the supervisor must immediately inform the shift commander regarding an alternative test location.

A copy of the written request shall be forwarded to the appropriate bureau commander as soon as reasonably possible.

Employees being tested based on reasonable suspicion must be escorted by their supervisor. The drug and alcohol test is conducted in accordance with the procedures established by this policy.

Employees tested based upon reasonable suspicion must not drive any vehicle while in the course and scope of employment until the results from the drug and alcohol tests are received.

Random Testing

The random testing program is conducted and administered through personnel designated by the HCSO. The Office of Human Resources and Risk Management and the HCSO Human Resources director maintain a current list of safety-sensitive positions subject to random testing under this policy.

The testing provider randomly selects a number of employees from the test group for testing.

Once the employees to be tested are selected, the Human Resources designee immediately notifies the employees that they have been randomly selected so that the employees can immediately proceed to the HCSO designated testing site.

Testing is conducted upon arrival at the testing site. Testing should be conducted as soon as possible after notification and in no circumstance in excess of two hours.

After testing has been completed, the employees tested are returned to the selection pool so that all employees in a test group are always eligible to be chosen.

Under this arrangement, it is possible that an employee may be tested two or more times within the same year.

Conversely, it is possible that an employee may not be tested at all within a year.

An employee who is absent from work on either paid or unpaid leave when selected for testing may be excused from the test.

Prohibited Drug Levels

The initial drug screening is an enzyme immunoassay technique (EMIT) test to detect the following prohibited drug group levels:

Substance                                                                             EMIT Cut-Off Level

  • Marijuana metabolites (THCA)                                                      50 ng/mL
  • Cocaine metabolites (Benzoylecgonine)                                     150 ng/mL
  • Opiate metabolites (codeine / morphine)                                    2000 ng/mL
  • Hydrocodone / Hydromorphone                                                    300 ng/mL
  • Oxycodone / Oxymorphone                                                           100 ng/mL
  • 6-acetylmorphine (heroin)                                                              10 ng/mL
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)                                                                       25 ng/mL
  • Amphetamine / Methamphetamine)                                             500 ng/mL
  • Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)                               500 ng/mL
  • Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA)                                           500 ng/mL

All specimens identified as positive on the initial test are confirmed using gas chromatography / mass spectrometry (GC / MS) techniques. The confirmation test conducted is given to detect the following prohibited drug group levels:

Substance                                                                        GC / MS Cut-Off Level

  • Marijuana metabolites (THCA)                                                        15 ng/mL
  • Cocaine metabolites (Benzoylecgonine)                                     100 ng/mL
  • Opiate metabolites (Codeine / Morphine)                                   2000 ng/mL
  • Hydrocodone / Hydromorphone                                                    100 ng/mL
  • Oxycodone / Oxymorphone                                                           100 ng/mL
  • 6-Acetylmorphine (Heroin)                                                                10 ng/mL
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)                                                                          25 ng/mL
  • Amphetamine / Methamphetamine                                              250 ng/mL

(Specimen must also contain amphetamine at a Concentration of ≥ 100 ng/mL)

  • Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)                               250 ng/mL
  • Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA)                                           250 ng/mL

Both tests are performed before any notice of a positive drug test result is provided to the county.

Status of Employees Pending Receipt of Drug and / or Alcohol Test

Upon completion of a drug or alcohol test based upon reasonable suspicion, an employee cannot return to work until the results of the test are given to the designated bureau representative. The employee is placed on paid administrative leave pending receipt of the test results.

The bureau representative will transport the employee to the testing facility and home.

Employees tested based upon reasonable suspicion must not drive any vehicle while in the course and scope of employment until the results from the drug and / or alcohol tests are received.

The bureau representative will notify the employee when he or she may return to normal duty hours.

Consequences of a Positive Drug Test for Applicants

An applicant who refuses to take a drug test under this policy is ineligible for hire. Conduct considered as refusing a test include:

  1. Failure to appear for any test,
  2. Failure to remain at the testing site until the testing process is completed,
  3. Failure to cooperate with any part of the testing process,
  4. Failure to take a second test when directed to do so,
  5. Failure to undergo a medical evaluation as part of a “shy bladder” or “shy lung” procedures, or
  6. Providing an adulterated or substituted urine specimen.

A decision to disqualify an applicant for prior use of drugs will be based upon the recentness, frequency, and severity of the drugs in question.

Consequences of a Positive Drug and / or Alcohol Test for Employees

Employees who refuse to take a drug and / or alcohol test under this policy shall be terminated. Conduct considered as refusing a test include:

  1. Failure to appear for any test without valid justification for non-appearance,
  2. Failure to remain at the testing site until the testing process is completed without valid justification for departing early,
  3. Failure to cooperate with any part of the established testing process,
  4. Failure to take a second test when directed to do so,
  5. Failure to undergo a medical evaluation as part of a “shy bladder” or “shy lung” procedures, or
  6. Providing an adulterated or substituted urine specimen.

Employees who have a confirmed positive test result for illegal drugs or a confirmed alcohol concentration of 0.02 or greater are subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination. Disciplinary action shall be determined through the Administrative Disciplinary Committee (ADC) process.

An employee who is terminated for refusing to take a drug or alcohol test or who is terminated for having a positive drug or alcohol test may be eligible for rehire provided the employee is willing to take another drug and / or alcohol test. However:

  1. Six months must elapse before such persons may reapply for employment.
  2. Any decisions to rehire will include, but will not be limited to:
  3. The severity of the infraction for which the former employee was terminated,
  4. Consideration of the former employee’s past work record and current qualifications,
  5. The results of the drug test at the time of application for re-employment, and
  6. The requirements and current needs of the HCSO.

Split Specimen Testing of Urine Specimens

An employee who tests positive for illegal drugs or who provides an adulterated or substituted specimen may have an independent test performed, at his or her expense, of a portion of the specimen that yielded the positive, adulterated, or substituted result.

The employee must request an independent test within 72 hours of receiving notification of a confirmed positive test result or of an adulterated or substituted specimen.

The independent test must be conducted by a certified laboratory.

Upon written authorization from the employee, a portion of the specimen is delivered by the testing laboratory to the laboratory selected by the employee.

If this second test result is negative for illegal drugs and neither adulterated nor substituted, records of the original test are treated as records of a negative test result.

Note: A person who is reinstated based on the results of an independent test may be reimbursed for the actual cost of the second test but in no event will reimbursement exceed the amount the county paid for the initial test.

A person’s inability to pay for a split specimen test will not preclude the testing.

Confidentiality

All information relating to the drug and alcohol screening is confidential unless disclosure is otherwise required by law, court order, or the applicant’s or employee’s consent. Disclosure of the results of the drug or alcohol screening to any unauthorized county employee, agent, or person without permission of the person tested is strictly prohibited.

All records of unconfirmed and negative test results are maintained in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. Records of test results and medical information, if any, are maintained in secure files separate from the applicant or employee’s personnel file.

Help for Addiction or Abuse

If an employee (or a member of an employee’s family) is experiencing a problem with alcohol or drugs, the employee is encouraged to contact the personnel director for confidential referral to the contracted provider.

Administrative Referral to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP):

In the event that a supervisor suspects that an employee may have an alcohol, drug, or other personal problem which interferes with his or her work performance, that supervisor may initiate an administrative referral of the employee to the contracted provider.

This policy and procedures contained herein became effective per Harris County Human Resources and Risk Management on January 1, 2018.

Revision

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

April 21, 2009

March 26, 2014

September 4, 2014

October 6, 2015

June 28, 2018

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