If you have done the work to overcome addiction to drugs or alcohol and want to go back to work, you may be worried that attending rehab will be a mark on your record. There is a lot of stigma about struggling with addiction, but getting the help you need is a source of strength.
You do not have to disclose more information than legally needed, but you can also choose to discuss rehabilitation with your employer so that you can take advantage of some legal help.
Going to drug rehabilitation is a vital step for your long-term health, and it takes bravery to get away from your life and enter treatment.
About 76 percent of people in the United States workforce have an alcohol or drug problem while they are employed. Too often, people struggling with addiction show up to work intoxicated, which increases the risk of harmful behaviors, poor decisions, lack of follow-through, and serious physical risks.
Unfortunately, many people do not get the treatment they need because they do not want their careers to suffer, but that means their career will suffer anyway.
Going back to work is a big step for someone who has completed rehabilitation. Work provides structure, meaning, and mental and physical occupation — all of which are good for someone who is reentering everyday life after drug treatment.
Work can also be a source of stress. Some employees may discuss their own recreational substance use, like drinking at happy hour, while on the job. These discussions can be triggers and may be tough to manage.
As you reenter the workforce, here are some points to keep in mind about applying for jobs and going to work:
The ADA also provides legal protection for people who struggle with addiction because it is a chronic illness that requires consistent treatment — often, behavioral treatment and access to medications. Thanks to the ADA, even people who actively struggle with compulsive behaviors around substances are protected from being fired, as long as they do not endanger anyone on the job. Their work is protected so that they can take a leave of absence to go through rehabilitation and come back to their job.
If you choose to use ADA protections and the FMLA to help you manage your addiction, including potential relapses, your employer will know that you have been through rehabilitation when you come back to work. You will need to disclose this condition in these instances, but you do not have to disclose information about your past substance abuse and subsequent addiction treatment before then. Employers are not legally allowed to discriminate against you for past actions or chronic illnesses.
When you return to work, you may consider working with your employer on a return-to-work agreement (RTWA). This document is best for those who took a sabbatical from work to undergo treatment, but something similar may work well for those entering new jobs.
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The Department of Labor (DOL) recommends that this document be put into place before an employee comes back from addiction treatment, but it is not required. The RTWA states that the employee must meet the company’s drug-free workplace standards, which may involve drug testing. Failure to comply will lead to termination.
As you reenter the workforce, it is important to know that you only need to disclose what is legally required on any job application, and you only need to disclose what you are comfortable revealing to get help from your employer after you are hired or return to your previous job. You are not obligated to tell everyone you work with that you went to rehabilitation to overcome an addiction.
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