DeKalb officials hired workers in ‘safety-sensitive’ jobs who had failed drug, alcohol tests

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News has learned that DeKalb County officials hired some workers in what are calling “safety-sensitive” jobs after they failed drug or alcohol tests. 

DeKalb has about 4,000 workers who fill these jobs, many of them driving sanitation trucks, fire trucks or police vehicles. The findings are included in one of two reports by the county’s independent internal auditor. Both reports are highly critical of the county’s human resources operation.

Joyce Kitchens, an Atlanta lawyer who has extensive experience representing local governments, told Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher the poor oversight of the mandatory drug and alcohol testing could leave the county vulnerable to very expensive lawsuits.

“The cost to the county if awful is they get caught. If the results were discovered by the (U.S.) Department of Transportation, it could be very severe penalties to the county.” USDOT is the primary agency that sets rules governing safety-sensitive workers. DeKalb County also has its own regulations.

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Among the findings by the auditors: Applicants were hired who did not pass drug and alcohol tests, and testing documentation wasn’t maintained.

Testing wasn’t completed for some employees, and key requirements weren’t completed for some employees who had tested positive.

Kitchens says those key requirements include drug and alcohol treatment programs, which, she says, have a success rate of only about 5%.

“So you’ve got a 95% chance of failure, and so you’re having people in safety-sensitive positions who are not being monitored to see if they are one of the lucky 5%,” she told Belcher.

Auditors looked at the files of 83 DOT and non-DOT safety-sensitive employees who had positive drug and alcohol testsfor the period 2016 through 2018. The review indicated that no record was on file to document that 34% of them had been suspended and 25% attended an aftercare program where required.

Kitchens says the county’s liability will soar if a driver with a bad record has an accident in a county vehicle, and private attorneys representing any drivers will quickly uncover the truth.

“If I have a D.U.I. or I didn’t complete rehabilitation or there’s no record that I did, then you would have a very strong case that the county was negligent,” Kitchens told Belcher.

County spokesman Andrew Cauthen told Channel 2 DeKalb gives drug and alcohol tests to substantially more employees than the USDOT requires. “DeKalb County is committed to maintaining a productive workforce.”

Cauthen noted that the auditors criticized the county because eight workers failed to complete random drug tests. He says those tests were delayed because of “various scheduling issues that prevented them from getting tested during that sample audit.”  He says all were eventually tested.

“We continue to improve in our record keeping. Of course, there’s always an opportunity for improvement, and when those are brought to our attention, we continue to improve,” he told Belcher.

Cauthen declined to say whether he believes auditors overstated the extent of the lapses in testing oversight.

The auditors examined records for 2016 through 2018.