You’ve finally worked up the resolve to enter substance use treatment. That’s a fantastic accomplishment! However, you may still be anxious about speaking to your employers about attending rehab.
In most cases, employers are happy to see their employees receive care and would rather have you get help and return to employment than struggle to manage your addiction on your own. It may also bring you some comfort to know that there are several federal protection programs in place to ensure job security while seeking treatment.
While it may seem intimidating at first to start this conversation, we’ve got some tips to make you feel more confident and at ease, so you can advocate for yourself and get the help you deserve. This article will walk you through speaking to employers about rehab, the protections you are entitled to, and the steps you can take to ensure this process is as smooth and effortless as possible.
Be Honest About Your Situation
Honesty about your situation and intentions is essential for speaking to employers about rehab.
An honest explanation gives realistic expectations about your return and is the best way to start your recovery on the right foot. Lying about why you need time off can only result in further secrecy and misgivings on your part, potentially setting you up for relapse down the line.
Honesty is an essential component of addiction recovery. While there is no need to dive into specifics or the more intimate details, being honest with your employer ensures that you can maintain and rebuild a positive working relationship in the future.
When you’re ready to speak to your employer, you should meet them with a concrete plan for your addiction treatment and work responsibilities. You don’t have to have all of the details finalized, but a general idea of your plans will help your employer anticipate what to expect. To come up with a blueprint, you’ll have to do a bit of research first.
Talk to a Treatment Center First
Before speaking to employers about rehab, you should contact a treatment center and let them know your situation. They can help you determine the best time to enter treatment and could even offer advice on how to break the news to your employer.
Talking to a treatment center will help you get a clear plan in place for your treatment. You’ll know precisely when you need to leave work and how long you expect to be gone. This step also shows that you’re committed to working on recovery.
Review Your Company’s Policies
One of the first steps in preparing to tell your employer about your departure is understanding your company’s policies regarding paid time off, unpaid time off, and any specific information they have about seeking inpatient care.
Many companies have policies specifically for employees seeking treatment for substance use disorders. Knowing these policies can help you better prepare to address your employer’s questions.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
Employee Assistance Programs are programs offered by employers that help employees address personal and work-related problems. These programs provide targeted counseling and services for people struggling with their mental health and may be able to help you communicate your needs for time off.
EAPs are becoming increasingly common among employers, as data has shown that they are effective tools for keeping employees healthy and productive.
Tie Up Any Loose Ends
As best as you can, try to make an effort to tie up any loose ends at work before you leave for treatment. This isn’t to say that you have to finalize all of your long-term projects, but having a plan in place helps everything run smoothly while you are away. This could include:
- Bringing your coworkers up to speed on current projects
- Letting clients know you’ll be unavailable for a time
- Completing some tasks in advance
Ensuring you don’t leave your employer in a bind can improve their sense of goodwill toward you and show that you are still committed to the company. This step can also help you get some closure before making the transition into treatment and set up a fresh start when you return to work.
Set Up a Time
After researching company policies and preparing yourself for a departure, ask your employer if you can set up a time for a one-on-one discussion.
Give yourself enough time to describe your situation adequately, tell them about what you’re experiencing, and let them know that you’re ready to seek help. If available, you can have a union representative attend the meeting.
Express Your Intentions to Return
A common misconception among employees is the belief that their employer would happily hire somebody else rather than keep their job waiting while they seek treatment. In truth, it is usually much more of a hassle and cost for employers to replace workers than it is to keep their current employees happy and healthy.
Expressing to your employer that you want to come back to work after treatment is a show of good faith and can set them at ease knowing that you’ll be back after getting the care you need.
Can I Lose My Job for Attending Rehab?
Some people might delay seeking treatment out of fear of losing their job. Fortunately, there are several federal programs in place that can protect your employment while you get treatment. The two primary programs are the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the American Disabilities Act (ADA).
Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that protects your employment while seeking treatment for a medical condition. This includes mental illnesses such as addiction. With FMLA, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to treat a serious medical condition without worrying about losing your job during your absence.
FMLA applies only to certain employers and employees. To qualify, you must:
- Have worked for your current employer for at least a year
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours for your company within the last year
- Work for an employer with at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius or for a school or public agency
If you and your employer meet these qualifications, you are entitled to leave with FMLA under federal law. Seeking treatment cannot result in you losing your job.
The American Disabilities Act
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) also protects people who worry about past drug use interfering with their work. While the ADA does not guarantee that you can keep your job while attending treatment, it does mandate that you cannot be discriminated against for a history of drug use.
For example, if you attend treatment and return to work, your employer cannot terminate your employment simply because you are in recovery from a substance use disorder.
People protected under the American Disabilities Act cannot be current drug users and must have completed or be enrolled in a rehabilitation program. In addition, this act does not protect you from other infractions at work that may have been a consequence of substance use.
Have a Plan for Your Return
During your first conversation about entering rehab, let your employer know when you expect to come back to work. This allows them to plan accordingly and shows that you are still committed to the company.
You might also plan to contact your employer a week or so before coming back to help keep them informed that everything is going to plan. Your treatment center may help you prepare for your transition back to work.
Consider Whether Your Job Is Right for Sobriety
Most of this article has discussed how to keep the job you have while entering treatment. Yet, for many people, their job is a major driving factor for substance use. Whether it’s stress, drinking norms at the office, or certain coworkers that cosign your substance use — for some people, their employment and addiction go hand in hand.
If this describes your situation, you should consider whether you would rather seek new employment. Doing so might be a crucial part of helping you achieve long-term recovery.
If you’ve decided you’d rather start fresh at a new position, speaking with employers about rehab is typically a resignation conversation. They don’t need to know why you’re leaving the position exactly, and you are free to choose how you navigate conversations with new employers.
When seeking a new job, you are protected from discrimination about past substance use by the American Disabilities Act. You cannot be denied a job based on past substance use as long as you are no longer actively using.
Consider Whether Your Job Is Right for Sobriety
Speaking to your employer about rehab can be nerve-racking, but it is essential if you want to start your recovery journey.