The idea of seeking treatment for an addiction can be frightening and stressful in many ways. Entering treatment for alcohol or drug use is a major decision that can be made even harder when you have a job. You may be worried about not just losing your job but people at work knowing that you are being treated for an addiction.
You aren’t alone in this fear. 76% of people dealing with substance abuse problems have jobs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. About 60% of adults also know someone who has been under the influence at work. The concern that seeking treatment will affect employment may be holding you back from getting the help you need but it shouldn’t.
While these concerns are warranted, consider that people who seek treatment for substance abuse are more likely to keep their jobs than people who do not seek help. You can’t even be fired for seeking treatment for substance abuse. You aren’t required to tell your boss why you are taking a leave of absence and the insurance company will not share your confidential health information with your employer.
You Have the Right to Privacy
If you are concerned about coworkers or your boss finding out that you are struggling with addiction and plan to seek treatment, remember that you have the right to privacy, even when you are using health insurance provided by through your job. Employers may not know which employees are in recovery or seeking treatment. While company officials may have this information, it will not be shared with your supervisors or coworkers. You can also speak with the HR department in confidentiality to understand your coverage and request leave for treatment.
If you aren’t comfortable speaking with a supervisor about going to rehab, you don’t have to tell them. You can simply ask for a leave of absence or use vacation time without giving a reason for your absence. You can also speak with only your boss about your plan to seek treatment and attend a rehab facility away from where you live and work if you are concerned about others at work finding out.
You May Want to Tell Your Boss
Your boss may never know you went to a treatment center but consider how addiction has affected the most important aspects of your life, including your job. Your quality of work may have suffered and you may have been late to work or called in sick due to your addiction. Because your job performance and behavior may already be affected more than you realize, your manager and coworkers may already know or suspect that you are struggling with substance abuse.
Whether or not your supervisor knows or suspects you have substance abuse issues, it may still be a good idea to be honest and upfront about why you are taking a leave of absence. Your employer may be able to offer additional resources such as a referral or counseling. You can rest easy knowing that your job is safe, even if you choose an inpatient treatment center. Most employers have policies that protect employees who seek treatment for substance abuse. You also have protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
ADA and FMLA Protection Against Being Fired
The thought of talking to your supervisor about seeking treatment can be stressful. Many people struggling with addiction worry not just about judgment but also about job security. You do not need to worry about being fired for seeking treatment. There are federal protections in place that make it illegal for your employer to fire you for going to rehab.
One of the most valuable forms of protection is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This act protects you if you take a leave of absence for medical reasons and it gives you up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year without the risk of being fired. Your group health benefits through your job must also be maintained during your leave of absence. Substance abuse disorders are a qualifying medical condition under FMLA.
You are eligible for protection under the FMLA if you meet three simple qualifications:
- You have been with your employer for 12 months or longer
- You have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past year
- Your employer has at least 50 workers within 75 miles
To gain protection under FMLA, you will need to follow the formal FMLA process to request leave. This means you must request an FMLA leave through your employer by talking to your supervisor or the HR department. You won’t be protected by this law if you seek treatment first and then tell your employer.
You may also be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which bans discrimination against workers with disabilities. The most important distinction here is that the definition of someone with a disability does not include someone who is currently using illegal drugs. Someone who uses alcohol or drugs on the job can be fired if the substance use affects productivity and/or performance or creates unsafe conditions.
If your employer finds out you are seeking treatment for substance abuse, however, you can’t be fired for seeking treatment. This is because substance abuse is considered a disability under the ADA. You can’t be fired for past substance abuse when you seek treatment voluntarily as long as you choose rehab before your employer takes disciplinary action.
If you are concerned about keeping your job, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. After all, your job performance may already be suffering. If you do not seek treatment, your employer can legally fire you for substance abuse on the job and poor work performance but you gain federal protection when you enter treatment.
There’s no shame in having an addiction. Substance abuse is a treatable condition like diabetes and it can affect anyone. Unfortunately, a common reason people avoid treatment is a fear of prejudice or the stigma surrounding addiction, especially at work. Don’t hold back from getting the help you need because you are afraid of what your boss or people at work will think. You will likely return to work to find support from your peers, not judgment.
If you are ready to start on the path to sobriety, call our counselors now at 888-380-0342