Addiction continues to be a serious problem for many Americans. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that among Americans 12 or older, the use of illicit drugs increased from 2015. More than 57 million used an illicit drug in 2019, versus 47.7 million in 2015. The same survey estimated that more than 21 million people 12 and up in the U.S. needed treatment for substance abuse, but only 4.2 million received any.
While there are many reasons why so many Americans who need treatment don’t get it, one factor may be the concern about maintaining their employment. Is it possible for someone to take off work for residential addiction treatment and not lose their job? What other options are available for people who wish to keep their jobs and work on their sobriety?
Can You Get Fired for Going to Rehab
There are two federal laws that prohibit any discrimination against employees by employers based on disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protect many people with past or current substance abuse problems — whether alcohol or drugs — from workplace discrimination.
Despite these protections, an employer may be able to fire an employee with a substance abuse problem if they are currently using the substance and it is negatively impacting their work. Current drug use is not considered a disability. That distinction only applies to someone with a history of substance abuse who is no longer using. The ADA, therefore, offers protection for workers in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction.
Additionally, an employer is legally able to ban the use of illegal drugs at the workplace and test employees for the use of illegal drugs. None of these actions are a violation of the ADA.
Help From Employers
Many workplaces offer an employee assistance program (EAP). The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) explains that an EAP “is a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems.” You can seek out an EAP for help with a variety of different mental health challenges, including substance use, bereavement, relationship or family concerns, and concerns over your mental wellness. EAP typically connects you with a short-term counselor for free, then recommends additional resources for longer term help.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FLMA) is another potential way someone can pursue rehab without sacrificing their job. Under the FLMA, a person may be eligible to take unpaid leave for treatment. It allows for up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period for people seeking treatment. Anyone who misses work because of their substance abuse cannot use FMLA to cover that time off.
How to Talk to An Employer About Rehab
If you’re ready to seek help for your substance abuse, it can be very scary to approach your employer. The reality is there is still stigma attached to addiction, although recognition of addiction as a chronic medical condition has increased in recent years. Here are some strategies to consider that might improve the outcome of the conversation:
- Do have the conversation sooner rather than later. Issues around addiction can spiral rapidly out of control. The earlier you reach out to your employer about the issue, in an upfront and honest manner, the better their odds of saving your job.
- Do research company policies either by reviewing hiring paperwork, searching the company’s website, or reaching out to a member of the human resources team to determine what help, if any, the employer may provide you.
- Do understand the laws that protect employment around the issue of addiction before talking to any company representative.
- Don’t discuss the issue with fellow employees before approaching a supervisor. It is best that your boss hears from you first, rather than hearing secondhand gossip.
- Do have a treatment plan or facility lined up in advance of the conversation. You should be able to inform your supervisor of your plans so the employer will recognize the positive action you’re taking.
- Do be honest about the amount of time needed for treatment so your company has clear expectations.
Working While Seeking Addiction Treatment
Some people dealing with substance abuse issues do continue working while they receive treatment. This can be done through outpatient rehab. Someone choosing outpatient rehab will still need to have a straightforward conversation with their employer and may need to adjust their work schedule around their treatment. The individual will also need to make plans to manage their withdrawal symptoms during detox, as their focus and ability to function will be impacted negatively during that time.
Going Back to Work After Rehab
An individual returning to work after attending rehab may be asked to adhere to a Return-to-Work Agreement (RTWA). This document outlines the employer’s expectations for the employee upon their return to work after addiction treatment. The agreement will allow the employee to return to their previous position as long as they abide by the RTWA’s requirements, which may include a period of random drug testing.
If you’re considering getting sober and are concerned about staying employed, contact our team at Bridges of Hope for more information about your options. We can connect you with a medically supervised detox program followed by the treatment level that best fits your needs. Get started on your recovery without having to leave Indiana.