Most people can’t just leave a job for several weeks of addiction treatment. And despite certain stereotypes, the vast majority of addicted individuals are employed and live relatively normal lives. They have bills to pay, families to support, and careers to build. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 76 percent of people with substance abuse issues hold jobs.
Many people fear that getting treatment at all will hurt their careers or get them fired. However, there are laws that protect people with addiction disorders from workplace discrimination and particularly from being fired for addiction, which is considered to be a legitimate mental illness. Plus, getting treatment for a substance abuse problem makes it more likely that individuals will not only keep their jobs but also advance to better positions.Keep in mind that inpatient rehab is not the only option for addiction treatment. It can work well for individuals with more severe addictions who feel they won’t be able to resist cravings to relapse or for those who have relapsed in the past. However, staying in a facility 24 hours per day for several weeks is not an option for everyone. Outpatient rehab allows people to maintain their day-to-day lives while visiting a treatment center a few times a week for counseling, support group meetings, and drug tests.
Know Your Rights
Both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protect addicted individuals from discrimination and help them get the treatment they need without losing the jobs they need to survive. Once you enter a rehabilitation program, you’re protected by the ADA and cannot be fired for reasons related to your addiction or the treatment process, even if it causes you to miss work. If you are fired, you can file a charge of discrimination against your employer. This applies to all state and local government employers and private companies with 15 or more employees.Under the FMLA, qualified employees can take 12 weeks of medical leave for issues that include addiction disorders each year. Unfortunately, this leave is generally unpaid unless the employer chooses to provide paid leave. This may not be an option for part-time or contract employees or for those who cannot afford to go several weeks without pay.
If you cannot obtain pay for the time you are out of work for addiction treatment, you can apply for disability benefits until treatment is completed and you can go back to work. Unfortunately, this can be a difficult and complicated process. In order to qualify for disability, you have to prove that you don’t make more than the income limit, which is typically around $1,000 per month, that the disability will last for longer than a year, and that your health issue severely impacts your ability to work. In 2010, there were nearly 11 million Americans receiving disability benefits from the government, so anybody applying for it will not be alone.This is a better option for those who have a more serious, ongoing addiction disorder that has already been interfering with their work. A medical professional may be able to provide more information on state disability benefits and guide individuals through the application process.
It’s also important to know that employers are required to maintain confidentiality regarding their employees’ medical issues. This is an essential aspect of employee rights for anyone worried about their workplace reputation.
Preparing for Treatment
You will have to talk to your employer about your treatment plan if you intend to enter inpatient rehabilitation or if outpatient rehabilitation will interfere with your schedule. Even if you can work your schedule around your outpatient appointments, ongoing withdrawal symptoms may impair your ability to focus and function like you did before. It’s often better to be honest and straightforward with your employer, especially since employees are protected by confidentiality.
If your employer comes to you first about a reduction in workplace performance quality, you can protect yourself from being dismissed from your job by being honest about your addiction disorder. Often employers will be legally required or required by union policy to allow their employees to attempt treatment before firing them.
If you’re planning to go to your employer first, it’s important to become familiar with your rights and your company’s policy on drugs and alcohol as well as insurance and medical leave policies. It’s also a good idea to speak to an agent at your insurance company and a medical professional to get more information about medical and disability rights.
Once all the necessary information has been gathered, it’s best to speak to your employer or human resources officer as soon as possible. Make sure to do so in a private location to maintain confidentiality. Managers should be trained in how to handle situations like this and have information on company policy handy. It can help to stress that your desire to get treatment involves a desire to improve your performance at work. After all, drug and alcohol abuse costs the US over $700 billion each year, mostly from workplace accidents, crime, healthcare, and loss of productivity.
After TreatmentFor those who undergo inpatient rehabilitation, once treatment is complete, they may be required to meet all the stipulations outlined in a Return-to-Work Agreement (RTWA). This is a written document containing all of the employer’s expectations for employees coming back to work after completing a treatment program for an addiction disorder. This is typically used in the case that the employer approached the addicted individual for failure to meet work responsibilities or inappropriate behavior related to substance abuse. If the employee then invokes the right to attempt treatment before being fired, it’s likely that a Return-to-Work Agreement will be arranged.
The RTWA will be developed in coordination with the employer, employee, a union representative, Employee Assistance Program representative, and/or addiction treatment professionals. The employee and representatives of the employee must be given proper notification of the creation of an RTWA before treatment begins, and it must abide by the laws protecting addicted employees as well as company policy.
A Return-to-Work Agreement may include the following requirements for the employee:
- Complete abstinence from alcohol and/or drugs except those prescribed by a doctor
- A period of regular drug testing
- Compliance with all addiction treatment professionals’ recommendations
- Agreement to monitoring of compliance by the company, including getting updates from medical professionals
- Paying for said monitoring and treatment if not covered by insurance
- Agreement that discipline for company violations not related to addiction is allowed
As long as all requirements are met, employees returning to work after addiction disorder treatment must be reinstated to their previous positions and treated as they always were. Any employer discrimination after the worker has returned, as long as it can be proven, is grounds for a discrimination suit.
Due to stigma and fears of losing employment, among other reasons, many people who need treatment for addiction disorders don’t seek it out. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were 23.5 million people in the US aged 12 or older who needed addiction treatment in 2009, but only 2.6 million of them received any treatment. Knowing your rights in terms of addiction treatment while employed can be the first step toward getting needed help.