Fear of losing your job is a common concern of people seeking treatment for addiction. Just because you are an addict doesn’t mean that you are not part of the workforce.
The fact is, one in 10 Americans is addicted to some form of drug or alcohol. Only 11% of people get treatment for their addiction, perhaps because of the many misconceptions they face when asking for help. Especially when it comes to keeping their job.
We’ll explore some of the facts about how to go to rehab treatment and keep your job. There are many questions that need to be answered so that you can be confident about seeking help.
Can I Lose My Job If I Go To Addiction Rehab?
Let’s first address the elephant in the room – can I lose my job for going into rehab? In one word – yes… you can!
That might not seem not reasonable, but it’s possible, and it’s important to be aware of that fact. Thankfully most employers are supportive, and there are ways to get around it if not.
What Can Your Boss Ask When You Call In Sick?
Taking a day or two off for sickness is normally considered acceptable. But what happens when you need to take a few months off from work to attend to your recovery?
Your employer will most likely ask you what is wrong, and there is no limit to what they might ask you. It’s best to keep your answer brief, as there’s no law about the type of questions that your boss may ask you. Normally a manager will respect your privacy, but this isn’t always the case.
An exception to this rule is when you are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). This law is designed to provide equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
Who Is Covered By The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)?
If you have a recorded mental or physical impairment that limits one or more major life activities you could be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This could be (but is not limited to) having trouble seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, speaking, breathing, learning or thinking. Also, the disability must have a duration of 6 months or more. You can find a full outline of the ADA here.
Many people suffering with a substance use disorder also have a co-occuring mental health issue. So it pays to check if you’re covered by the ADA.
Here are 11 mental and physical impairments that the ADA covers:
- Cerebral palsy
- Intellectual disability
- Muscular dystrophy
- Orthopedic, speech, and hearing impairments
- Visual impairments
- Heart disease
- Drug addiction
- Learning disabilities
If you need time off and have an ADA-protected condition, you don’t need to go into the full details about your problem. However, your employer will most likely request a doctor’s note.
How Do I Tell My Work I’m Going Into Rehab?
Requesting days off for mental health reasons is normally preceded by an awkward conversation with your manager.
Unsurprisingly, many people freeze at the very thought of talking about mental health with colleagues. The unrelenting stigma can lead to uncomfortable situations that most of us would rather avoid.
Do you have annual leave or unpaid leave? If so, you can use the leave time accrued to go into treatment. It can sometimes be better to get into recovery first, and share your story afterwards.
If you can take paid or unpaid leave, then you can go into rehab discreetly. You are under no obligation to share the details of your illness with your boss. However, people often want to disclose the life that they had been living, so that they’re no longer living a lie.
Nominate Your Therapist to Communicate on Your Behalf
If you’re not comfortable speaking with your boss or loved ones, you can nominate your therapist to communicate for you on your behalf. Rather than putting on another front, it can be good to allow your therapist to tell your employer or loved ones that you are in rehab.
In addition to relieving you of the burden, it will also validate your health issues when coming from a professional who specializes in your condition.
That being said, there is no “one way fits all.” Some employers are not supportive of taking time off for rehabilitation treatment. Your own approach will be unique to your individual path of recovery.
Mental Health Issues and Addiction Can Be Isolating
The stigma surrounding mental health issues can lead to a cascade of lies. You might lie to cover up the extent of your substance use. You might even lie to yourself that you don’t have a problem.
When it comes to explaining your disease, it can be intimidating and disheartening to own up to it, not just to yourself, but also to others.
Take comfort in being honest and for taking responsibility to get better and improve your health.
It’s important to remember that you can always rebuild your life. Taking steps toward your recovery will allow you to reconnect with yourself and a thriving life of sobriety. Ditch the shame and take steps toward living a full and healthy life.
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
– Brené Brown
Despite the stigma around mental health, many employers now see the benefits of having a happy, healthy workforce.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that every $1 put into treatment for mental disorders yields a 4-fold return in productivity.
While it’s in the interest of your employer to assist you in getting appropriate treatment for mental health or substance abuse issues, many employers are lagging behind and still adhere to old-fashioned values.
Company Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
When choosing an employer, it pays to review their Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which will outline their corporate wellness programs.
Some companies are now understanding the benefit of providing “mental health days” and wellness programs.
If you have an understanding employer, then asking for leave to go to rehab will be much easier.
Using the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) For Rehab
Before we dive into the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), it’s important to note that it doesn’t cover contract workers.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) covers you for leave for up to 12 weeks in any 12 month period for medical or family reasons.
Unfortunately not everyone is covered by the FMLA. FMLA covered employers include:
- State employers
- Local government employers
- Federal employers
- Some larger private companies
To use the Family and Medical Leave Act for rehab, you’ll need to work for an FMLA covered employer, and have worked for them for at least 12 months.
Normally, the Family and Medical Leave Act applies to unpaid leave and essentially ensures that you can keep your job. Check with the human resources department to see if your employer is covered by the FMLA.
If you’re going to go into rehab and your employer recognizes the FMLA, then it’s important to let them know your plans. If you don’t advise them of your plans ahead of time, then you may no longer be protected and could be asked to leave.
If you’re covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, you shouldn’t be fired for going into rehab, provided you give enough notice ahead of time.
An exception to this rule is if your employer has a separate policy that states otherwise. So check your company’s policies first before deciding the best route to take.
The U.S. Department of Labor states:
“FMLA leave may only be taken for substance abuse treatment provided by a health care provider or by a provider of health care services on referral by a health care provider. Absence because of the employee’s use of the substance, rather than for treatment, does not qualify for FMLA leave.”
Getting Time Off Work to Go to a Rehab Treatment Program
If your employer offers annual paid or unpaid leave, that’s normally the easiest route to getting time off work to go to a rehab treatment program. That way you don’t have to tell anyone, and can recover fully before deciding if you want to discuss your recovery at work.
Employers covered by the FMLA will provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, which can secure your job while you get treatment.
Employers vary widely on their understanding of mental illness and substance abuse. Therefore your approach may differ from others on the path to recovery.
Make sure to be fully informed about your employer’s policies, and speak with your therapist before deciding on the best pathway to your recovery.
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