By Sandy Baker
You’ve made the decision to enter drug and alcohol treatment.
It’s the biggest decision of your life, but you are unsure who you should confide in. What will happen to your job if you tell your employer? For some people, the fear of losing their job limits their willingness to enter into treatment programs. Don’t let fear hold you back. Instead, know your rights.
Individuals suffering from substance use disorders have some protections under the law. However, whether or not you need to tell your employer depends on your specific situation.
Learn About Your Company’s Policies
Many businesses have policies in place regarding alcohol and drug use. These policies can offer insight into your responsibilities to your employer. In some situations, the policy will outline the specific steps you need to take to inform your employer of your health needs. It’s important to be upfront about the care you are receiving, since this may be a requirement for maintaining your position.
Also, learn about any programs your company may offer to you. Some companies have additional resources beyond the traditional health insurance policy to help individuals. This is very common in high-profile or high-stress positions. Organizations can offer in-house counseling as well as provide referrals for the care you need. Some companies allow you to choose the care you desire, but will offer to cover the costs. Your human resource team can be a valuable resource here.
Remember, this is your treatment. Always make a decision about where to go for treatment based on your needs, not your employer’s recommendations.
Will You Lose Your Job if You Tell Your Employer?
Once you enter into rehab or are ready to do so, contact your employer and apply for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if you meet the eligibility requirements. This law provides you with specific protections that can help you to preserve your job. It requires the employer to maintain your position at the company for up to 12 weeks while you undergo the care you need. It can protect your job for up to three months in any given 12-month period.
To receive FMLA protection, you must be undergoing treatment from a recognized medical provider. This includes treatment programs such as those offered at the Ranch at Dove Tree.
FMLA does not provide you with any type of financial support. It does not require the employer to maintain your salary during the time you are absent. However, it does ensure your health insurance remains in place during your care. Any benefits you normally received during your employment cannot be canceled either.
A New Job?
Some individuals pursue new employment after leaving rehab because they want a fresh start. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects you here. You cannot be discriminated against in regards to being hired as long as you are in treatment and sober.
How to Talk to Your Employer
Walking into the office of your manager or the company owner to start the conversation on addiction can be very difficult for you. However, if this person has worked with you for any given amount of time, he or she probably knows something is not right. Even if you believe you are doing very well at hiding your addiction, your employer likely knows your health is suffering.
Here are a few tips to get the conversation moving in the right direction.
- Schedule a specific time to speak to your employer one-on-one. This isn’t ideal to do in an email. Ask your employer to give you 30 minutes in private. Perhaps consider an offsite location if you have privacy concerns.
- Talk about what you are experiencing. Remember that you do not have to tell your employer all of the details. He or she has no legal right to this information. However, being honest and open generally allows your employer to be more willing to listen to you.
- Discuss why you are entering rehab and how you believe it will make you a better employee. Be open about what you would like to hear, but avoid admitting to any fault while at work.
- Any information provided to your employer in relation to your health is confidential. Reinforce this with your employer during the conversation.
- Whenever possible, include a human resource manager or your union representative to ensure the conversation stays on track.
The First Step Is the Most Difficult
Contacting your employer to make this type of decision isn’t easy to do so. If possible, consider scheduling a consultation and a meeting with your counselor at Ranch at Dove Tree before you do so. This will give you some opportunity to talk about why you are getting help and what you can expect from your care in advance of your meeting with your employer. This information will allow you to move forward with confidence.