Fear Not: You Can Get Addiction Treatment AND Keep Your Job

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Many People Don’t Get Substance Abuse Treatment Because They Want To Keep Their Job

If you have a substance abuse problem, it’s completely normal for you to want to keep this information from your employer. Most people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol believe that having a problem with addiction will result in immediate termination. No one wants to be fired from a job. Not only can this be embarrassing, it can negatively impact someone’s career and have long-term consequences.

However; you should not be ashamed if you have a problem with drugs or alcohol – nor should you be afraid of losing your job. Addiction is recognized as a legitimate illness by almost every major national health organization. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that “addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.” As an addict or alcoholic, you are a sick person who needs medical assistance – not some moral degenerate who should be punished.  

In most cases, you cannot be fired for admitting that you have a problem with addiction. Depending on the circumstance, your disease may be protected under the law. If you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol and you want to get treatment, you should know that you do have options. You can go to rehab and keep your job. In this article, we will provide you with some helpful information that will allow you to get the treatment you so desperately need without putting that steady paycheck in jeopardy.

Know Your Rights – You Have Resources Available To You If You Want To Get Treatment

There are laws currently in place that favor those who have a drug and alcohol problem, provided that the person wants to get help. Unfortunately, many people try to find loopholes in the law that will help get them out of a jam. They try to get around disciplinary action or avoid losing their job after they have failed a drug test, gotten caught using drugs or alcohol at work, or shown up to work under the influence. The law won’t help you if you are in one of these situations.

Labor and disability laws that govern the workplace in America have been carefully written so that alcoholics and addicts can’t work the system and keep their jobs while continuing to drink or drug. However; there have been significant efforts made to ensure that those who want to be proactive and get help for a substance abuse problem can get the help they need without fear of professional backlash.

If you want to go to rehab and keep your job, there are certain things you should know about how the system works. It is also important to know that company drug policies come into play when it comes to whether you can get help for a substance abuse problem and keep your job.

What You Should Know About The American Disabilities Act of 1990

According to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Association (SAMSHA), “the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is perhaps the most important federal civil rights legislation that affects employers when developing and implementing drug-free workplace policies. It prohibits all U.S. employers with more than 15 employees from discriminating against qualified job applicants and employees because of a physical disability.”

Furthermore, “The ADA does not, in any way, prohibit employers from having a drug-free workplace policy, nor does it provide any special protection to individuals who are currently using illegal drugs. However, it does make it illegal for employers to discriminate against recovering alcoholics and drug users who have already sought treatment for their addiction.”

These are the terms of the ADA as it relates to substance abuse:

  • Employers cannot fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote someone simply because she or he has a history of substance use.
  • Employers also cannot fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote employees because they are enrolled in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program.

Let’s explain in greater detail how these terms affect you personally.

How The ADA Relates To You And Keeping Your Job

Addiction and alcoholism are both considered physical disabilities. There is some gray area about how to handle a situation if you are currently using illegal drugs – and we’ll get to that. However; if you are an alcoholic, you are completely covered by the ADA. You can notify your employer that you have a problem with alcohol and tell them you need time off to go to a substance abuse program. BY LAW, they MUST grant you the time you need for medical treatment. If they try to fire you anyway, you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

If you have a problem with illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamines; things are a bit more tricky. According to the ADA,  “a qualified individual with a disability shall not include any employee or applicant who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs.” What this means is that if you tell your employer that you have a problem with illegal drugs – and they have a zero-tolerance drug use policy – you could be fired.

Generally, this means that someone with an alcohol addiction should be guaranteed with provisions that allow them to get treatment and keep their job. On the other hand, someone with an addiction to illegal drugs may not be able to admit to having a drug problem and get treatment without professional repercussions.    

FMLA Allows Addicts And Alcoholics To Take Off Work For Substance Abuse Treatment

Most people who have a substance abuse problem are not familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides time off to someone who wants to get help for a substance abuse problem. FMLA applies to all public agencies and private employers that have more than fifty employees.

FMLA guarantees employees up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year to address certain medical conditions and circumstances. According to the United States Department of Labor, this includes addiction treatment. FMLA requires that health benefits be maintained during the leave – and depending on your coverage, your addiction treatment should be covered by your policy.

To get approved for FMLA through your employer, you will have to provide appropriate medical documentation from a doctor to your human resources department. HR will guide you through this process.

Here’s what you should know about FMLA as it relates to substance abuse treatment:

  • FMLA leave may only be taken for substance abuse treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.
  • Absence because of the employee’s use of the substance, rather than for treatment, does not qualify for FMLA leave.
  • The employer may not take action against an employee because they have exercised his or her right to take FMLA leave for substance abuse treatment. However, if the employer has an established zero-tolerance policy that has been communicated to all employees, an employee may be terminated for substance abuse regardless of whether he or she is presently taking FMLA leave.

In order to receive FMLA, you first have to exhaust all of your vacation time and sick pay. After you have used up all of your own resources, you can continue to stay on FMLA – which is essentially unpaid sick time – for three months.

What Is Your Company’s Policy When It Comes To Getting Help For An Addiction Problem?

Before you make a decision about how to tell your employer you need to go to rehab for a specified length of time – and BEFORE you file FMLA paperwork – it is a good idea to talk to your human resources department to find out what the company policy is. Having this information will have a lot to do with how you proceed with your situation. This is especially true if you have a problem with illegal drugs.

When approaching the HR department, it is best to present a “what if” scenario or hypothetical situation to your human resources representative rather than admitting outright that you have a substance abuse problem. This will eliminate the potential threat of being terminated. Say something like, “What if I have a problem with alcohol or drugs, what is the company policy about getting treatment? If I need to take FMLA, how should I notify my boss? Do I have to disclose that I have a problem with addiction or can I just tell them I need time off for medical reasons?”

Your HR team is well-versed in situations like this one and they will be able to provide you with guidance about how to tackle the situation. Be sure to follow their advice to the letter and ask them to help you navigate this very sensitive situation so that you can keep your professional reputation intact.

Remember, Outpatient Treatment Is A Way To Continue To Work And Get Help For Addiction

Quite often, people who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol think their only solution for treatment is a stay at an inpatient facility that provides round-the-clock care. This is simply not true. An Intensive Outpatient Program is a viable option for those who want to get help for a substance abuse problem and keep their job.

With an Intensive Outpatient Program – also Known As IOP – you can receive quality, evidenced-based addiction treatment services several hours a night three to five times a week. The only difference between IOP and inpatient rehab is that you would return home every night instead of staying at a residential treatment facility. This would allow you to continue to maintain your work schedule while getting help for an addiction to alcohol or drugs. You probably wouldn’t even need to tell your boss you are getting treatment unless you need to leave work early to get to the facility on time.

Many people find that an Intensive Outpatient Program is the ideal to solution to going to rehab while keeping their job. It allows the flexibility and freedom to maintain the typical work schedule while providing the support, structure, and treatment necessary to overcome an addiction.

March 12th, 2018|0 Comments

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