Dealing with alcohol and substance misuse can wreak havoc on your career if you do not seek help.
Certain laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), can protect your job if you need to seek addiction treatment. In some cases, you may also be able to continue working while you undergo addiction treatment.
The Legal Action Center states that employers with 15 or more employers cannot discriminate against employees with a disability, including a history of alcohol or drug misuse.
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ADA laws can protect your job if you are performing your job duties. Protections cannot secure your job if you are not performing your job duties. This means that if you are performing poorly due to your substance abuse, your job is not necessarily protected.
Your disability — in this case, your substance abuse — does not protect your poor performance, but it may prevent them from firing you if you actively seek help. The specific laws vary from state to state, but many laws require that midsize and large companies provide reasonable accommodations for employees who need to go to rehab.
Employee Assistance Programs
An employee assistance program (EAP) can help employees who struggle with various types of personal problems, including substance abuse.
On February 2014, Psychology Today reported that even people who have access to an EAP are not likely to use it. A few reasons for this are:
- Employees do not always know these programs exist.
- There is stigma involved in asking for help at work or any other setting.
- Employees have the perception that they must request permission from HR or their direct supervisor.
- Employees doubt the confidentiality of EAPs.
If you seek help from a company EPA, some laws can protect your privacy and assist you as long as you are performing your assigned job duties.
Laws That May Protect You From Disclosing Too Much
The Legal Action Center states that if you work at an organization that consists of 15 or more people, your employer is supposed to provide reasonable accommodations. This can look different in practice.
- Employees who misuse alcohol outside of work are generally protected.
- People who become addicted to medications, if they are using them as directed and developed addiction unintentionally, may be protected from repercussions under the ADA.
- Those who have documented their impairment, such as people who have been in recovery for many years, may be protected because their substance misuse affects one or several areas of their life.
- Those who misuse alcohol may be protected by ADA laws, but not people who misuse illicit substances.
Some states may have stronger anti-discrimination laws that relate to addiction.
Asking for Time Off
If your job does not have an EAP and you need inpatient treatment, you may be able to seek time off using the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Department of Labor says you may be able to invoke the FMLA in the following circumstances:
- You must work for an organization that employs at least 50 people within 75 miles of where you actually work.
- You have been working at this site for at least 12 months.
- You worked 1,250 hours during your 12 months.
Several health conditions quality for FMLA specifically. These are:
- Health issues that result in an overnight stay at a hospital or other physical care facility
- Pregnancy, including neonatal visits or incapacity because of morning sickness
- Health issues that cause you or a family member to be incapacitated for more than three days in a row
- Chronic health issues that require extended care for you or a family member at least two times per year
Members of the military can take a few allowances due to their military status. Family members can also take FMLA leave to care for a family member who has been injured or is dealing with an illness.
Once you and your employer decide on FMLA, you may take up to 12 weeks off of protected time. There are a few things you should know if your 12 weeks are granted, per the Department of Labor.
- You can take your FMLA at once or break it up into smaller time frames. For example, you can take your entire 12 weeks (which may be ideal for people who enter inpatient treatment), or you can take it in small increments after discussing this option with your treatment center.
- The time you take off because of FMLA should not be held against you or affect your promotions and progress.
- Your employer must continue to cover you under your company’s health insurance, but you may be expected to contribute payments for your coverage.
- FMLA time is not paid. However, you may have sick days, vacation days, or other paid days as a part of your company’s policy. You can discuss taking these along with FMLA so you can keep getting paid. In some cases, your employer may require you to use this accrued time.
- You must return to the same job or one that is similar to your job if you can get back to work before your 12 weeks.
What You Must Disclose to Your Employer
Once you have checked your job’s policies, there are still a few things you must disclose to your employer depending on how long you will be gone.
- You should attempt to give your employer adequate notice. It is generally required that you do this 30 days before you know you need to take FMLA.
- If you cannot provide this information 30 days before, you should do so as soon as you can.
- You have to give an employer enough information about why you need to take FMLA leave, including doctors’ notes or other relevant information so that your organization knows enough to approve your request.
How Length of Treatment Affects Asking for Leave
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says that many lawsuits arise because employers and employees do not fully understand the protections the ADA offers. This usually applies to employers who ask prospective applications about the medication they legally use to manage health conditions.
Asking for leave can be an issue if you need treatment for more than 12 weeks at a time. FMLA can be used to treat alcohol or substance use disorder.
It can also be used to assist or care for a family member who seeks treatment or for health complications that have arisen as a result of drug misuse, such as kidney failure or other health issues.
Per SAMHSA, employees cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees who request FMLA leave. Although you must provide a reasonable amount of information to your employer, HealthIT says there are privacy laws that protect you from disclosing too much information.
- Patients are generally protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Under this law, patients can decide whether or not health care providers can disclose their information to someone.
- Consent laws generally protect employees’ information, especially when taking care of a health condition that is considered to be sensitive.
This means that even if your employer wants to find out more information, they cannot get it from your health care provider unless you provide consent.
In some instances, your addiction may not be severe enough to warrant inpatient treatment or even intensive outpatient treatment. If you are participating in standard outpatient treatment, you may be able to continue working.
While you will face higher levels of stress and likely more temptations than others in treatment, it is possible to manage your job and treatment. Talk to your prospective treatment center about your work requirements and whether it is feasible for you to continue with your job while in treatment.
With planning, enough notice, and knowledge of your rights and responsibilities, you can keep your job and seek the treatment you need.
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(February 2014) Why Don’t Employees Use EAP Services? Psychology Today. Retrieved April 2019 from from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-act-violence/201402/why-dont-employees-use-eap-services
Employment Discrimination Against People With Alcohol/Drug Histories. Legal Action Center. Retrieved April 2019 from from https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/partnersforrecovery/docs/QA_Employment_Discrimination.pdf
(November 2015) Federal Laws and Regulations. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved April 2019 from from https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/legal/federal-laws
(September 2018) Health Information Privacy Law and Policy. HealthIT. Retrieved April 2019 from from https://www.healthit.gov/topic/health-information-privacy-law-and-policy
(June 2015) The Employee’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Department of Labor. Retrieved April 2019 from from https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/employeeguide.pdf