Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

What Are Your Workplace Rights When Entering Rehab?

October 10th, 2018 | Anna Ciulla

Drug and alcohol rehab have helped millions of Americans successfully recover from addiction and greatly improve their quality of life. But if you’re employed and struggling with substance abuse, a decision to enter rehab can often be complicated by anxious concerns about job security and if/how you should tell your boss. The good news is you have certain workplace rights that can alleviate many of these worries— even with respect to talking with your employer about a decision to pursue rehab.

Common Job-Related Concerns About Going to Rehab

Any full-time employee who has struggled with a serious health condition that requires treatment (and significant time away from work) has asked many of the same questions as employees with an addiction. Some of these questions include:

  • How will seeking treatment impact my career?
  • Do I qualify for medical leave?
  • Can I get fired for taking a leave of absence?
  • Can my company let me go after learning of my addiction?

What Are Your Workplace Rights?

While there is no cookie-cutter answer to these questions as everyone’s job situation looks different, knowing your workplace rights can help you both answer the above questions and prepare for a conversation with your boss.

  • A job-protected leave of absence from work – Alcoholism and other substance use disorders can qualify for a job-protected, unpaid leave of absence under the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires that employers with 50 or more employees grant up to 12 weeks of family or medical unpaid leave to employees who have been in their employment for at least 12 months. Consult your employee manual and/or human resources department to verify that an FMLA leave of absence is an option available to you.
  • Insurance coverage for treatment – If you work full-time, you should have a private insurance plan that covers treatment for alcoholism and other drug addictions (if not in full, then partially).
  • Paid time off (PTO) – If you have been working for the same employer for a while, you have the right to use PTO in the service of time off for treatment. Depending on how much PTO you have accrued, you can get creative about how you use it to help you through rehab— for example, by scheduling detox and rehab over a long holiday weekend and using PTO to make up for the remainder of that time away from work. Alternatively, if an intensive outpatient program will suffice for your treatment needs, you may be able to spread out small chunks of PTO across several weeks instead of taking off a prolonged period of time.
  • The right to control what you share with your employer – You are not required to tell your employer you’re going to rehab, although in some cases this may be the best course of action. If you do tell your employer that you need to go to rehab, it is within their right to ask for supporting medical documentation — but the release of any of that private health information will still require your signed consent. In other words, you have a right to limit what, if any, disclosures you make about your medical history. You also have a right to request confidentiality with any medical records you agree to share.

How to Prepare for the Conversation with Your Boss

In addition to getting better familiarized with your workplace rights, here are some other things you can do to prepare for that conversation with your boss:

  • Get organized ahead of time. Know what the dates of your leave of absence will be, and be prepared to propose a plan for how to cover your job duties while you’re away.
  • Decide ahead of time whether to share that you’re going to rehab. If you do tell your boss, rehearse an honest but brief explanation. If you’re hoping to avoid mentioning that you’re going to rehab, you’ll still need a prepared response for any questions asked about why you need a leave of absence.
  • Keep the conversation positive and focus on how taking the time off will help you become a better, more productive employee. Avoid gratuitously mentioning any negative details of your addiction.

Nobody should have to forego rehab for an addiction that is ruining their life purely out of fear they’ll lose their job or be forever stigmatized. These tips can help anyone considering drug or alcohol treatment navigate the challenge of pursuing rehab while protecting their job.

About the Author: Anna Ciulla is the Chief Clinical Officer at Beach House Center for Recovery. Anna has an extensive background in psychotherapy and clinical management, including more than 20 years of experience helping individuals and families affected by addiction and co-occurring disorders find recovery. Learn more about Beach House’s different rehab programs by visiting their website.

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