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How To Communicate With An Employer About Time in Rehab

Having a career while struggling with addiction is not easy. However, for some, it is even more difficult to admit to your employer or your company that you need to seek treatment and go to a drug rehab center. At the same time, accepting and admitting you have a problem is essential in maintaining your career during recovery.

Dealing With Addiction At Work

Even though there are numerous outstanding addiction treatment centers across the United States and across the globe, there are many factors that can make an individual’s decision to attend treatment more complicated than it should be. A tough situation for an addict, who has already overcome denial and is ready to recover, is putting their life on hold while they are in treatment. This is a common concern, and addicted individuals with full-time jobs may worry when their medical professionals recommend inpatient treatment.

This is a tricky obstacle to maneuver since many people cannot leave their job for several weeks while remaining stable financially. Although there is the misconception that the majority of addicts who hit rock bottom are unemployed, many people are able to function despite their addiction and are employed. Like any other American, those seeking treatment also have bills to pay, families to support, and careers to pursue. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 76% of people with substance abuse issues have jobs and are securely employed.

The major concern for employees who struggle with addiction is that bringing their addiction to the surface to get help will be detrimental to their career. This fear often includes concerns that they will be stigmatized and may be viewed differently as an employee, or may even get fired.

Can You Get Fired for Going to Rehab?

man telling boss about leaving for rehabFortunately, there are laws that protect individuals with addiction disorders from workplace discrimination. This protection includes being fired for an addiction issue, which is now considered a legitimate mental illness. Additionally, bosses will typically consider that an employee who seeks help will not only treat their addiction but also advance in their career with a clearer focus and healthier body and mind.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects individuals from discrimination during and after their recovery process and aids those in finding treatment that meets their needs, which may include keeping their current job.

It is important to understand that once an individual enters a drug rehabilitation facility, they are absolutely protected by the ADA and cannot be fired for reasons related to their addiction or the treatment process, even if the individual needs to take time off to do so. If an addict is fired for their current disability, they have the right to file a discrimination lawsuit against their employer. This protection applies to all state workers, local government employers, and private companies with fifteen or more employees. Under the FMLA, qualified employees are granted the opportunity to take twelve weeks of medical leave every year, and this medical leave can be used for an addiction disorder.

The only downside: this temporary time off is usually unpaid, depending on the employer. Some companies choose to provide paid leave. However, this may not be an option for part-time or contract employees, or even for those individuals who cannot afford to go weeks without income.

Disability Benefits For Addiction

The solution for these individuals, if they are not able to receive payment for the time they are out of work for addiction treatment, is to apply for disability benefits until treatment is successfully finished and they can go back to their job. It is important to note that obtaining disability for this circumstance can be a tedious, complicated, and difficult process, especially when an individual is already overwhelmed with their lifestyle change. In order to qualify for this disability, the addict must prove that:

  • they do not make more than the income limit, which is typically around a thousand dollars per month
  • the disability will last for more than a year
  • their addiction and overall wellness has severely impacted their ability to work

In 2010 alone, there were up to eleven million Americans receiving disability benefits from the government. Individuals applying for disability for addiction should not be hesitant or feel like a failure for getting the assistance they need during this temporary period in their life. It may be a hit to the ego for some, but using this opportunity is often necessary for those who have an intense, dangerous, and ongoing addiction disorder that has already interfered with their work.

Most medical professionals are willing to help! Physicians are able to give additional information and supporting documents on disability benefits and guide individuals through the application process. All health professionals are obligated to maintain confidentiality, as are employers regarding their employees’ medical issues. This is a guaranteed aspect of employee rights for anyone worried about their workplace reputation or the stigma of their situation surfacing.

Benefits of Outpatient Treatment

Despite the ability to take time off for treatment without penalty, it is important to remember that inpatient, residential, or overnight treatment are not the only options for successful addiction treatment. Every addict is different, so every treatment plan will be different. At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we ensure our clients have specialized treatment plans that will allow them to work on their lives outside of treatment while still putting in the work that they need in order to reach stable sobriety. While inpatient treatment may be essential for individuals with life-threatening addictions, or as an accountability mechanism for clients who have relapsed in the past, staying in a facility for several weeks is not ideal for every individual. For this reason, outpatient rehab facilities give addicts the ability to stay connected to their daily lives while visiting the facility throughout the week for process groups, individual counseling, support group meetings, and drug tests.

How to Tell An Employer About Treatment

Being Open and Honest

  • If you choose to take time off work for addiction treatment, communication is key. The employee struggling with addiction will have to contact their employer about their specific treatment plan if they do intend to take the necessary time off and enter an inpatient rehabilitation facility or treatment center. There is a bit more wiggle room with outpatient treatment, but there is a need to communicate honestly if the outpatient treatment will interfere with work schedules. Even if the individual is able to create an optimal schedule around their outpatient appointments, ongoing withdrawal symptoms could and most likely will impair their ability to focus and function like their normal selves in their active addiction. Some employers and coworkers could notice a drastic change in behavior and become suspicious.

Being Aware of Your Rights

  • If an employer comes to the employee first about a downturn in their work performance, the employee can protect themselves by telling the truth about their addiction disorder. More often than not, employers will be legally required to let their employees attempt treatment and recovery before firing them. On the other hand, if an individual goes to their employer first, it is essential that they are already aware of their rights, the company’s policies on substance use, their insurance policy, and medical leave criteria.

Speaking to Human Resources

  • After you have gathered all the necessary information and are ready to present, it is wise to start first by speaking to your human resources manager. HR managers should already be trained and knowledgeable on how to handle circumstances like this and will have information on company policy.

Showing Passion For Improving Yourself

  • It always helps to show passion for improving yourself, to both personal and company benefit. After seeing your desire to get treatment in order to improve your performance at work, it is more likely that the company will be willing to help out with the situation and make accommodations for your leave.

Returning to Work After Rehab

For individuals who undergo inpatient rehabilitation, once their treatment is complete, they may be required to meet all the stipulations outlined in a Return-to-Work Agreement (RTWA). The RTWA is a written document that will include all of the employer’s expectations for employees coming back to work after completing a treatment program for an addiction disorder. If an employee invokes the right to attempt treatment before being fired, it is likely that their employer will require a Return-to-Work Agreement. The employer will develop the RTWA for the employer, employee, a union representative, if applicable, an Employee Assistance Program representative, and addiction treatment professionals. The employee and their representatives must be given proper notification that an RTWA is required before they initiate treatment, and the document itself must abide by the laws protecting addicted employees, as well as company policy.

A Return-to-Work Agreement could include the following requirements for the employee:

  • Complete abstinence from alcohol and/or drugs except those prescribed by a physician
  • 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

If recovering addicts are able to abide by all these requirements, they must be reinstated to their previous positions and treated as they were prior to seeking treatment. Any employer discrimination after the individual has returned, as long as it can be proven, could be classified as discrimination and the employer could face a discrimination lawsuit.

Drug and alcohol abuse costs the United States over seven hundred billion each year, mostly from workplace accidents, crime, healthcare, and loss of productivity. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were roughly twenty-four million people in the United States twelve years or older who needed addiction treatment in 2009, but only about three million of them received any treatment. This devastating difference can be helped if addicts are aware of their rights to addiction treatment while employed.

At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we encourage our clients to be upfront, honest, and straightforward with their employer about what they have been dealing with and how they are getting help to become a better person and employee. Our staff promotes the concept of transparency and honesty. Overall, we want our clients to know that no one is ever against them getting help for addiction issues, especially if addiction is affecting their personal and public lives. We are here to support our clients throughout the process and communicate effectively with anyone who needs a clinical and legal explanation for their behavior.

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