The decision to seek treatment can be lifesaving for many individuals experiencing addiction. Unfortunately, attending treatment takes time – often as many as 90 days, and sometimes more. The length of treatment can cause some individuals to assess the benefits of rehab against the potential risks taking time away from work and the rest of their lives.
Why Do Some People Fear Attending Rehab?
Although addiction can be a full-time job in itself, most people experiencing addiction hold steady jobs in order to support themselves, their families, and even the potential costs of addiction. When a physician, interventionist, counselor, or someone else suggests attending rehab, the prospect of leaving that job for the length of time necessary to complete rehab can seem daunting. Not only must the addicted individual face leaving the addictive substance behind, but friends and family as well.
When you add in the prospect of leaving a job for as many as 90 days, the idea of nearly three months without pay can compound already-present anxiety surrounding how you are going to pay for treatment in the first place. Then, the ultimate fear – what if there is no job waiting upon your return? Can your employer fire you for attending rehab?
Laws Exist To Protect You
Depending on the circumstances of your employment, laws are in place that may protect your ability to keep your job while you are in rehab. However, these laws only apply to companies of certain sizes. It is important to learn your rights before approaching the topic of rehab with your employer.
Once you enter rehab, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) states that you are protected and cannot be terminated for reasons associated with your addiction. For example, missing work due to the treatment process – whether it is to participate in a weekly drug test or attend treatment – is a protected action under the ADA as long as you are using your vacation time or sick leave. If your employer fires you for seeking treatment, you may file discrimination charges against your employer. ADA regulations only apply to government agencies and companies with fifteen employees or more.
Similarly, the Family Leave and Medical Act (FMLA) states that employees may take as many as 12 weeks off to pursue medical treatment for a condition. This includes addiction disorders, allowing you to pursue treatment for up to 12 weeks without fear of reprisal. However, FMLA leave is generally leave without pay, unless your employer agrees to pay you anyway. FMLA regulations only apply to full-time employees of companies with over 50 employees. In addition, you must have worked at your company for at least 12 months.
What Are Your Options?
If FMLA or ADA does not apply to you due to the circumstances of your job, or if you cannot afford to miss work for a long period, attending a full, inpatient treatment program lasting 90 days or more may not be your best option. Instead, you may want to consider whether an outpatient treatment center is a better option. Although you may need to leave work for drug testing or sessions outside of the norm, it is possible to schedule outpatient treatment around a full-time work schedule.
Similar to inpatient rehab, however, those instances in which you must leave work early for sessions related to your treatment may occur, and similar questions may arise regarding missed work. You are still protected under FMLA and ADA if your company meets all size requirements. You are continuously protected from reprisal and discrimination resulting from your addiction.
Additionally, you may want to consider disability. If you are unable to work during treatment and earn less than $1,000 per month, you may qualify for disability payments. However, you must prove that your medical condition renders you unable to work, or that it has affected your work to the point where you cannot maintain employment. Ask a medical professional for more information.
What Should You Do Before Attending Treatment?
If you plan to attend inpatient treatment that will require you to miss work, or if you intend to schedule outpatient treatment that may interfere with your work schedule, you will need to discuss your upcoming absences with your employer. However, even if you believe outpatient rehab will not impact your work schedule, consider the fact that your treatment or the resulting withdrawal symptoms may affect your work performance. Usually, it is in your best interest to discuss these issues with your employer before they occur.
Before the conversation:
- Know your rights. It is essential to take the time to learn about your rights to privacy and continued employment before entering into a discussion with your employer. To achieve this, you may want to speak with an insurance provider or medical professional with knowledge in these areas.
- Familiarize yourself with your workplace’s drug policy. If you are well informed about your company’s drug policy, you are better able to reassure your employer that you do not intend to violate the policy. In addition, you can reassure your employer that your treatment plan is, in part, an effort to adhere to company policy.
- Find your company’s HR representative. In most cases, HR is the appropriate place to have a discussion regarding your drug treatment plans. Reiterate that your treatment is an effort to improve your health as well as to improve your performance at work.
- Have the conversation as soon as possible. Adequate notice that you are spending time away from work is a consideration to your employer, who can adequately plan for your absence. In addition, you will have sufficient time before beginning treatment to ensure your employer is respecting your rights.
- Take care of responsibilities. Ensure that you leave your employer in a good position. Do your best to complete any projects that are your responsibility, and tie up any loose ends.
After You Return
Once you’ve completed rehab and return to work, the FMLA stipulates that you return to a similar position and work schedule as before so long as you continue to perform your job as expected. Your employer must keep the details of your addiction and treatment confidential, as well as the terms of your return. In some cases, you may have agreed to a return to work agreement. This document is an agreement between you, your employer, and the treatment center, and stipulates your continued sobriety, possible drug testing, and job performance as a condition of your continued employment.