Minority and independent truckers challenge hair testing for drugs

Oct 28, 2022

Eleven major trucking companies filed an exemption in August requesting that the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) require that hair test results used for drug screening of drivers by these companies be reported in the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

In turn, these results would become available to any trucking company accessing the database for information on driver applicants.

Large carriers testing hair for drugs as part of company policy have been advocating the implementation of this requirement. However, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has not yet recognized hair testing as an acceptable alternative to urine testing, and accordingly, positive hair test results are not permitted to be reported to the Clearinghouse.

If the exemption becomes approved, such results would be allowed into the database for the companies applying for the exemption. According to the Trucking Alliance, the exemption would affect 61,775 drivers and 64,201 commercial trucks.

Moreover, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must issue guidelines before DOT can recognize hair testing as an acceptable method. “Although FMCSA lacks the statutory authority to grant the Trucking Alliance’s request for exemption until [HHS] has taken certain action, FMCSA requests public comment on the exemption application, as required by statute,” reads a statement from the agency.

The exemption has been supported by large companies including KLLM Transport Services and affiliate Frozen Food Express (KLLM/FFE), which also argue that FMCSA has the authority to grant the exemption.

However, the exemption proposal has also been challenged by religious groups, including the Sikh Coalition and the North American Punjabi Trucking Association, which filed joint comments on the petition. According to the groups, hair testing discriminates against Sikhs based on research studies demonstrating the potential for certain hair types and colours to be subject to a higher rate of false positives, and also maintaining uncut hair is part of the Sikh faith.

“Sikhs, Punjabis, and other South Asians typically have brown or black hair, and are already disproportionately subject to high rates of bias such as employment discrimination and hate crimes,” the group stated. “Our organizations cannot support initiatives that potentially subject our already vulnerable communities to a greater likelihood of discrimination, particularly given that so many Sikhs and South Asians derive their livelihood from commercial trucking.”

In addition, many opposing comments on the Trucking Alliance’s petition note that hair testing does not provide conclusive evidence of habitual drug use.

“Many individuals have never driven under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, but because a hair test may show traces of a drug like marijuana for weeks, it makes them an ‘abuser’ and greatly inhibits their ability to earn a living,” said Todd Spencer, president and CEO of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, in comments opposing the petition. “This is unjust.”