You’ve finally concluded that you need help for your drug or alcohol addiction, and you’ve made the incredibly courageous choice to enter a rehab program. This decision is not easy to make, and you should be proud of yourself for putting your health first. Even though it is the right choice to begin an addiction treatment program, many people suffer from anxiety about the pause in their career and ask: What about my job?
How do I tell my employer I’m going to rehab?
Should I be honest about where I’ll be?
I can’t lose my job because I need the money.
I want to have this job to return to once I’m well again.
These thoughts can lead people to delay the treatment needed to overcome their addiction, or even worse, decide not to go at all!
It is surprising to people that you CAN go to drug or alcohol rehab and return to work afterward. Addiction is a disease that requires medical or clinical interventions. Employed individuals seeking treatment may find job protections under FMLA. Additionally, most people find that they’re happier, healthier, and more productive employees after a rehab experience.
While fear of losing your job shouldn’t be a barrier to starting rehab, difficult conversations with your employer or HR team may be necessary to move forward. It’s best to be prepared if you can. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
Review your company’s policies
Most organizations have a handbook that describes their policies for sick leave, time away from the job, and paid time off vs. unpaid time off. Going to rehab isn’t time “off” it’s a medical necessity. Keep this in mind as you read and review your company’s policies. If you can’t find anything in the handbook, you may need to contact HR directly. Your company may also have specific policies about drug and alcohol use, so be sure you’re aware of what they are. These policies may not be relevant to your conversation with HR, but it helps to be in the know.
Know your legal rights
As mentioned before, you have certain legal rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. FMLA is a U.S. labor law that requires employers to provide employees with job-protected, unpaid leave for medical or family reasons. FMLA should allow you to take up to 12 weeks, unpaid, to recover from a severe illness like addiction. You may also have additional rights covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA states that leave for an employee is supported if it would constitute a reasonable accommodation that doesn’t impose excessive hardship on your employer. In other words, with your employer’s support, the ADA may allow you to take time off from work with no penalty.
It’s also important to know that you have confidentiality rights since this is a very personal and medical issue. Human resources and your employee assistance program (EAP) are the only parties who would need to know what type of treatment you are seeking. Your direct supervisor or your boss technically wouldn’t need to be informed of the reason for medical leave. However, in many cases, leading with honesty can be helpful. Sometimes, being up-front about the need for time off can increase empathy from your team. However, this decision is up to you.
Ask HR about options
If you’re trying to assess your options for rehab, you may benefit from a one-on-one chat with your HR department. They can let you know if there are Employee Assistance Programs available, which would assist in the form of short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services. These programs are designed to help employees struggling with any issue, work-related or not, and help improve mental health culture throughout the workplace. You can also ask your HR rep about insurance coverage for rehab programs. Most health insurance policies cover a portion or even all of your addiction treatment.
Start the conversation the right way
While it’s up to you whether you want to divulge why you need medical leave to your boss, in most cases, we recommend leading with honesty. Why? Because if your boss feels like they understand what’s going on, they will be more likely to empathize with your situation and offer support. Begin the conversation by explaining the situation, your decision to enter a drug or alcohol rehab program, and how this will impact your overall health and job performance. Most employers will feel positive and supportive toward employees taking the initiative to start their recovery.
Your boss may already know that something is going on with you. Many people report drug and alcohol abuse impacting work performance. If this is the case, don’t worry. Reassure them that treatment is a necessary step for your health and work performance, as it will allow you to remain focused and on task. Your rehab journey is NOT about your job or your boss. It’s about you and your health – but it couldn’t hurt to remind them that most employees in recovery are more reliable and engaged than their peers.
Emphasize the importance of treatment
Addiction is a serious disease, as serious as any other, and millions of Americans struggle with it. Without addiction treatment, the disease can result in many serious ailments and even be fatal. You’ve realized this, and it’s why you’re seeking treatment – but your workplace may need some education about the seriousness of addiction. Come prepared with a few resources to share with your boss or the HR team if they have questions. Providing resources for your employer is an optional step since it’s not your job to educate them. Still, it may help them understand the seriousness of addiction.
Addiction recovery can be life-saving, and medical professionals know this: The American Medical Association classified alcoholism as a disease in 1956, and addiction was added in 1987. The need for treatment through drug rehab or alcohol rehab is non-negotiable. Your workplace should understand that you are taking an essential step in treating a harmful disease. Addiction isn’t a choice, but treatment is – and you’re taking the proper steps to become well again.
The choice to seek treatment is a very brave one, and nothing should stand in the way of your recovery. Your health is more important than anything, including work. It can be nerve-wracking to tell your employer that you are going to rehab. Be aware that you are not the first person this has happened to, and you are most likely legally protected. You should feel confident in your choice and encouraged to be open, honest, calm, and communicative no matter what happens.
Bradford Health Services is here to provide effective, affordable drug and alcohol addiction treatment. We can answer questions about navigating rehab with your employer. Get the care you need today. Speak to a recovery advisor today: 888-SOBER-40. We’re here for you, 24/7.