If you need help overcoming addiction but are worried that going to rehab will get you fired, you’re not alone. Lots of people spend years building a career and don’t want to jeopardize their hard work by admitting they have a drug or alcohol problem. But hiding your addiction from your boss isn’t practical and will eventually catch up to you. Your job performance will begin to suffer, you might miss important deadlines and your co-workers will definitely notice.
Substance abuse treatment is one of the best decisions you can make in this situation. Left unchecked, addiction will derail your career and ruin your professional reputation faster than you’d think. You’ll be seen as flaky, unreliable and careless, despite being none of those things when you’re sober. But rehab will have the opposite effect, giving you a chance to redeem yourself and rebuild trust with your boss, co-workers and clients.
Going to rehab while employed might seem daunting, but the good news is that you can’t be fired for seeking treatment. However, you can be fired for poor job performance, frequent absences or being under the influence at work, especially if you’re still using. If you’re struggling with addiction or alcoholism and are hesitant to tell your employer, keep reading to learn how the law prevents you from being fired and what protections it provides.
FEARS & STEREOTYPES OF SEEKING TREATMENT
First, let’s address some common fears that stop people from getting help while employed.
One of the biggest obstacles for busy professionals is the need to keep working while in recovery. With bills to pay and a family to support, the lost income can put a strain on your finances, making it difficult to take the necessary amount of time off. You might also worry that if you go to rehab, you won’t have a job to come back to afterward.
Another concern has to do with the stigma of substance abuse. Your co-workers may guess why you need to take a leave of absence and “spill the beans” about your addiction. If you don’t want others to know you’re going to rehab, this can be a big deterrent. Most people would prefer to keep things quiet and avoid the office gossip.
Finally, you might fear that going to treatment will stall your career. You’ve worked hard to get where you are and don’t want to lose the progress you’ve made. Maybe you’re concerned that you’ll be passed over for future promotions, left out of key decisions or lose important clients because of your addiction, limiting your advancement opportunities.
These are all valid concerns, but the untreated effects of substance abuse will have a far greater impact on your career, reputation and finances. And with more flexible treatment options available and laws in place that protect you from being fired or discriminated against, getting help won’t cost you your job as long as you commit to the recovery process.
RIGHTS, LAWS AND PROTECTIONS ARE ON YOUR SIDE
You wouldn’t expect a co-worker to get fired for having a medical condition or needing a wheelchair, right? That’s because in most cases, they’re protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These laws mean employers can’t fire or discriminate against workers with disabilities and must provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specified reasons.
Substance abuse is recognized as a disability, so addicted individuals are granted these same protections. Once you enter a treatment program, you cannot legally be fired for reasons related to your recovery and reasonable accommodations must be made to allow you to get the help you need. As federal laws, the ADA and FMLA apply to all 50 states, but some employers may not be covered.
The ADA prohibits discrimination by companies with 15 or more employees, while the FMLA applies to employers with a larger workforce of 50 or more. If you’re an independent contractor or working for a smaller company, you’re not provided these protections. Employees who are actively abusing drugs or alcohol are also not protected. If your employer is covered by the FMLA, they cannot demote or fire you for taking time off to go to rehab.
ADA & FMLA ELIGIBILITY
ADA: If the following apply…
- Current or past addiction to alcohol that substantially interferes with daily life
- Formerly addicted to illegal drugs but no longer using
- On medication-assisted treatment for a substance use disorder
- Currently or formerly enrolled in a substance abuse treatment program
- Work for a covered employer
You cannot be…
- Fired, demoted or rejected for a promotion because of your past
- Denied reasonable accommodations related to your disability
- Disqualified for a potential job if you’re in recovery
- Treated less favorably due to your substance abuse history
FMLA: If the following apply…
- Need treatment for a substance use disorder
- Have worked for the same employer for at least 12 months
- Put in at least 1250 hours during these 12 months
- Work for a covered employer
You cannot be…
- Denied up to 12 weeks of leave to enroll in a treatment program
- Retaliated against for requesting or taking leave
- Lose your job for going to rehab
Keep in mind that these laws don’t prevent your employer from having policies that promote a drug-free workplace, but they must be communicated to all employees and applied fairly, in a non-discriminatory manner. That means if you violate the rules or continue to use illegal drugs, you can still be fired even if you’re granted or entitled to FMLA leave.
WHAT ARE MY TREATMENT OPTIONS?
Residential treatment isn’t your only option when it comes to rehab. In fact, due to the fears and stereotypes listed above, this level of care is not the best choice for most professionals. While it may benefit those with severe addictions who need 24/7 monitoring, an inpatient stay means you won’t be able to manage your daily responsibilities while in treatment.
Outpatient rehab allows you to continue working and maintain your independence throughout the recovery process. Instead of living on-site at a treatment facility, you’ll attend therapy sessions and group meetings during nights or weekends. The hours are flexible and designed to fit your schedule, so you’ll be able to keep your job. And by maintaining your normal routine, your co-workers won’t know you’re in rehab unless you want them to.
Choice House’s intensive outpatient program (IOP) for professionals requires 10 clinical hours a week, providing enough support to help you get sober without disrupting your career. Programming takes place on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday during the evening, leaving plenty of time to spend at home or in the office.
If you’re struggling with addiction or alcoholism in the workplace, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your rights and learn your company’s policy on substance abuse. Once you’re ready, talk to your employer or human resources manager as soon as possible to figure out what happens next. Don’t let fear of being fired or discriminated against prevent you from getting help — your health and sobriety are more important. Ultimately, recovery will improve your job performance, work productivity and general well-being. At Choice House, our IOP for professionals is designed for people in your exact situation. Our team is experienced with the ADA and FMLA and can help you navigate this process. Call us today at 303-578-4975 to get started.