Breath Alcohol Tests for Employment

Information on Breath and Blood Alcohol Testing

breath alcohol test
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What are breath alcohol tests and when can employers use them as part of pre-employment or employment screening for alcohol use?  Breath alcohol testing devices, commonly known by the term for one type of device (Breathalyzer), measure how much alcohol is currently in the blood.

Blood alcohol tests also show current levels of impairment or intoxication, not past use.  This is in contrast to tests for illegal drugs which do show past use.

How Breath Alcohol Tests Work

The person being tested for alcohol use blows into a breath alcohol device, and the results are given as a number. The number, known as the blood alcohol concentration (BAC), shows the level of alcohol in the blood at the time the test was taken. It does not measure past use of alcohol.

When Employers Use Breath or Blood Alcohol Tests

Employers typically use alcohol testing under specific circumstances:

  • The employer may have a policy that tests when there is reasonable suspicion, also known as probable-cause or for-cause testing, and there are documented signs of possible alcohol or drug use.
  • Another scenario is post-accident testing when there was suspected alcohol or drug use that caused a property damage or personal injury accident.
  • Random testing may be performed on an unannounced, unscheduled basis on employees who are selected from a testing pool.
  • There is mandatory alcohol testing for employees in some industries regulated by the US Department of Transportation .

    US DOT Required Alcohol Testing

    Mandatory alcohol and drug testing is required by the US Department of Transportation for some occupations and industries.

    This includes trucking, aviation, maritime, pipeline, railroad, and transit employees in safety-sensitive occupations. A safety-sensitive employee in the transportation industry is an individual who provides a safe work environment for co-workers and the traveling public.

    The legal limit for being considered impaired while driving is .08.  However, the blood alcohol concentration that is considered impaired is a lower number than the standard driving BAC.

    US Department of Transportation regulations consider a .04 a positive alcohol test requiring removal from driving or other safety-sensitive tasks. A .02 under DOT regulations can require removal from tasks for a certain period of time.

    In addition, there are other regulations governing alcohol use for safety-sensitive employees:

    • Employees must not use or possess alcohol or any illicit drug while assigned to perform safety-sensitive functions or actually performing safety-sensitive functions.
    • Employees must not report for service or remain on duty if they are under the influence or impaired by alcohol.
    • Employees must not use alcohol within four hours (8 hours for flight crew members and flight attendants) of reporting for service or after receiving notice to report.

    Pre-Employment Alcohol Screening

    The US Department of Transportation specifies when applicants can be tested for alcohol as part of pre-employment screening:

    • The testing must be accomplished for all applicants
    • The testing must be conducted as a post-offer requirement

      Blood / Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Calculators

      There are calculators available to compute your estimated blood/breath alcohol concentration based on the number of drinks you have consumed and how quickly you drank them, your weight, and your gender. In general, 1 ounce of alcohol stays in a person’s system for 1.5 hours.

      Legal Issues

      • There are no federal laws prohibiting alcohol or drug testing. 
      • Some states restrict employers from random drug testing of employees other than those in safety-sensitive positions. 
      • Someone with a history of alcoholism may be considered a qualified individual with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other Federal non-discrimination statutes. 

      More Information on Employment Drug and Alcohol Tests

      The private websites, and the information linked to both on and from this site, are opinion and information. While I have made every effort to link accurate and complete information, I cannot guarantee it is correct. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. This information is not legal advice and is for guidance only.