Today, an estimated 40.2 million Americans struggle with drug and alcohol use disorder or “addiction”. Of these, less than 1 in 10 get help, with just 4 million Americans going to any form of rehab in 2020. For many, concerns over the accessibility of treatment, including financial stability and jobs or careers topped the list of reasons why they didn’t go. The good news is that, for most people, there are significant laws in place to protect you and your job in case you go to rehab. While there are still cases where you might lose your job, you can’t be fired for “just” attending rehab.
In this article, we’ll cover when your job is and is not in jeopardy safe and even when you may be able to reach out to your workplace for help with funding rehab and treatment.
Laws Protecting Your Job When You Go to Rehab
If you’re struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, you’re classified as having a temporary disability. This means your job is protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each function in slightly different ways to allow you to take time off from work to seek treatment, without fear of reprisal.
Family and Medical Leave Act – The FMLA exists to allow people to seek out needed medical care without interference from their employer. Under this law, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without disclosing the reason to your workplace – although you may have to provide a doctor’s note – to seek out treatment. Any evidence you are requested to provide should not include the reason you are seeking care, only that you are seeking treatment and the duration. This means that, even if you don’t have enough sick leave or your boss won’t offer it, you can still take time off without losing your job. While that’s important for anyone who has to take time off, it’s especially important if you work in a professional career where you might have signed a morality clause specifically forbidding the abuse of drugs or alcohol.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – The Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, officially wrote into law that substance use disorders are a temporary disability. This means that your employer cannot legally prevent you from getting treatment and if you disclose it, they may not fire you because of it. In addition, they must legally make allowances (providing time off, finding replacements for you, etc., to seek that treatment). In addition, if your workplace employs over 50 people, they are likely required to provide assistance in the form of insurance or a substance abuse prevention and treatment program.
Americans with Disabilities Act – The Americans with Disabilities Act means that your employer cannot legally discriminate on you because of your temporary disability (addiction). They may not fire or demote you for having a substance use disorder or for seeking treatment for it. However, this does not entirely protect your job as there are loopholes.
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When is Your Job at Risk?
In some cases, you might go to rehab only to find that your employer can legally fire you. Understanding those possibilities is important. Here, your risks largely lie in where you used and for how long.
For example, in most places, your employer can legally fire you if they find you’ve used while on the job, while operating their machinery, etc. That’s especially true if you’ve been involved in workplace accidents or other issues which could be traced back to substance abuse.
In addition, if you do ask your boss for drug or alcohol treatment, it’s important that you be clean when you do. You can often be fired for showing up to work drunk or high, even if you’re asking for help.
In other cases, you might have signed a contract which specifically forbids you from breaking a moral clause. These are common in professional careers such as for lawyers but significantly less so in most others. However, it may be worthwhile to review your contract to look for a morality or drug or alcohol stipulation or clause. Here, your contract may allow you to be fired if:
- You used illicit substances while employed with the organization
- Infringed on your employer’s moral reputation, such as by being arrested with a DUI
- You used drugs or alcohol on workplace premises (and they can prove it)
- You test positive for drugs without being in a treatment program
Here, your employer may be very tolerant and even helpful in getting you into treatment. In other cases, your employer will have a no tolerance policy. It’s important that you check your workplace policies before making decisions and before telling your employer anything.
Making Good Decisions to Get Treatment
Once you know your employer’s policies and approach to drug addiction treatment, you can take steps to protect your job while getting treatment. For example, if you don’t have a morality or similar clause in place, you can contact HR to ask for help moving into treatment. If you do have a morality clause in place, you might want to discuss your options with a lawyer first and then make the decision to either request help with rehab or to seek out treatment on your own.
That’s important, because having assistance via employee programs, sick leave, etc., can be immensely helpful into ensuring you get the treatment you need. On the other hand, if your employer uses it as can include financial and planning aid. In addition, your workplace insurance is required to cover at least a portion of (approved) treatment centers.
Eventually, your job is likely safe if you decide to go to rehab. In fact, in many cases, your employer is required by law to assist you in getting help, which means providing insurance, helping you to take the time off you need, and making allowances for you. However, your job may be at risk if you have morality clauses forbidding substance abuse, if you’ve used on workplace premises, or if other illicit behavior (like constantly showing up late for work) is linked to substance abuse. Hopefully, you can analyze your past behavior and your standing with the company when making decisions. If you can’t rely on your workplace for support, you can always leverage FMLA leave for time off work – although it will be unpaid.
Good luck getting treatment.