It is normal to worry about losing your job when you enter rehab for help with addiction. Often, sobriety is a requirement in the workplace, with drug testing being a normal part of the hiring process. This expectation, combined with the necessary time off for rehab may make you worry that your job will not be waiting for you when you return. Additionally, you may fear getting demoted or getting passed over for promotions in the future, what will happen to the projects you are working on, or what your coworkers will think of you.
While there are no guarantees for every job, there are laws in place that protect most. In the end, addiction will hurt your job prospects far more than going to rehab.
How Do I Tell My Boss?
If you want to keep your job while you get the treatment you need, you will need to have a conversation with your boss. Remember, you’re not the only one who struggles with addiction. Your boss may have had this conversation before. He or she may even have experience with addiction themselves. The conversation may be uncomfortable, but there are helpful ways to approach these things.
- Schedule a time to sit down one on one with your boss. This is not the kind of conversation to have in the hallway.
- Be honest and transparent. You’ll make things worse if you tell a half-truth and it is later discovered. Be frank with your boss about what is going on and what you need to do about it.
- Focus on the present. The mistakes of yesterday are over. What matters now is what you are going to do about your future. Make it clear to your boss that you are serious about getting your life back on track and need time for some professional help. Rather than simply coming to your boss with a problem, have the solution ready.
- Tie up your loose ends. Don’t leave coworkers holding the bag, and make sure your boss knows you have done your utmost to leave your work in good shape before you go.
- Tell your coworkers you are taking a leave of absence. You are not required to tell anyone where you are going if you choose not to, and when you tell your boss, he or she is required to respect your privacy.
Is My Job Safe?
In most cases, yes, but there are exceptions. It depends on certain aspects of the business you work for, as well as the kind of substance addiction or chemical dependency you suffer from.
The Americans With Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees from discrimination based on a disability if they work for an employer with more than 15 employees. This would therefore protect your employment security during rehab. Chemical dependency is considered a disability if you are dependent on a legal drug. A dependence on alcohol, therefore, would be covered while a cocaine addiction, because it is illegal, would not.
However, your employer can require that no employee take a substance, nor be under the influence of a substance, while at work. If you are caught under the influence at work, your employer has the legal right to fire you. Also, your employer can demand the same performance from you as from any other employee. If your dependency inhibits your ability to perform your job at the expected level, your boss may fire you.
The Family Medical Leave Act
All employers who employ 50 or more employees within a distance of 75 miles are required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year. They must continue your health benefits during your leave, and when you return, you are entitled to return to the same or an equivalent post. Under the act, you are permitted to take leave for substance abuse, but you must meet certain criteria to be eligible.
- You must have worked for your employer for at least twelve months to be eligible for medical leave for addiction treatment.
- During those twelve months, you must have accrued 1,250 hours of work before you take your leave.
- You have to seek help from an inpatient treatment program in which you stay overnight.
- A health care provider must give you a referral explaining that you qualify for FMLA based on your inability to perform your regular duties due to your disability.
The FMLA is a federal law, but some states have passed laws that extend and strengthen the FMLA in their state. You will have to consult your state laws to understand the details. In the meantime, your employer may not legally dismiss you from your job based on your decision to go for treatment.
What If My Employer Fires Me Anyway?
You can file a claim against your employer for unfair dismissal. An employment board will review the matter and make a determination. They will look into the reasons your boss gives for your dismissal and see if they can substantiate them.
How Do I Look For Work While In Recovery?
If you have gaps in your résumé, you may face the prospect of telling your interviewer about your disability. The choice of how you handle that situation is up to you. If there are no gaps in your résumé, you will not usually face questions about drug or alcohol abuse. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against people in treatment or recovery, but the ultimate choice of whether to tell them or not is up to you.
How Do I Stay Employed While Recovering?
During recovery, you may have appointments and meetings you need to attend as part of the process. It is best to be up front about these with your boss from the outset. If you need time off, find ways to make up the work or switch your work schedule to accommodate your new life schedule. The important thing is to take care of yourself, so that you can take care of your job.
- Watch yourself. In therapy, you will explore your personal triggers and learn what they are. Seek help from your sponsor when you need it. Don’t try it alone.
- Sleep well. Everyone performs better when they are rested, and that is especially true of those recovering from an addiction. You will be able to cope better as well as handle your duties better.
- Eat well. Eating a balanced diet isn’t just about losing weight. It is also a way to maximize your energy and alertness during the day.
- Find meaning outside of work. Keep yourself busy outside your job with something you find meaningful or fun. When you are bored, your thoughts can stray to using or drinking. A good hobby can help prevent this.
However scary or uncomfortable the prospect of facing your boss and seeking help through a recovery program is, it is better than letting your career fall apart due to addiction. When you are living a healthier life, you will be able to perform to the best of your ability, both socially and professionally. A temporary detour to a treatment facility is an important step to finding a healthier you, and is well worth the effort it requires.