image of male therapist with glasses speaking with woman in foreground listeningIf you’re struggling with an addiction, you’re not alone. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates 19.7 million U.S. adults suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, with 38% struggling with more. A further 1 in 10 Americans is estimated to experience addiction at some point in their lives. And, while the common idea of an addict is not someone who goes to work, an estimated 70% of addicts are employed. If you are struggling with an addiction, your boss and your workplace have accepted the risk, have defined processes in place to handle the problem, and are bound to certain actions based on U.S. regulation.

Taking the steps to admit an addiction to your boss can be nerve-wracking. This is true if you’re a high functioning addict who has largely offered quality performance. It can be worse if your drug or alcohol abuse has contributed to accidents, harm to others, or inability to perform duties, which may result in termination of your job. However, chances are that if you come clean, seek out help, and move forward, you will be able to do so without losing or changing your role in the organization, unless you work in a specific industry requiring code-of-conduct licensing.

Understand Your Rights

The first step to coming forward to your boss, your workplace, or to HR should be to understand your rights. What can your workplace legally do if you inform them you are struggling with a substance use disorder?
In most cases, the answer is “not much”. Legislation exists to ensure you can get help, get time off from work, and likely benefit from a workplace program designed to help you get rehab and treatment.

FMLA – The Family Medical Leave Act mandates that individuals can request up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave without risking their jobs. In most cases, you will not have to disclose the status of your emergency to your workplace, as long as you are willing to do so with your doctor and they qualify your treatment as deserving of time free from work. This means that your workplace is obligated to give you free time to seek out proper medical treatment, without you alerting them as to why. Explaining the medical problem may help to expedite the process of approval.

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, offers legislation mandating that substance abuse treatment is a medical right. While this does not greatly impact how your employer is allowed to act, it does mean that you can get up to 60-70% medical coverage for rehabilitation through your work-based insurance.

Americans with Disabilities Act – Addiction is classified as a disability, which means that your employer cannot refuse to hire, fire, or discriminate against you based on it. However, your employer can fire you for related offenses such as breaking code of conduct, consistent poor performance, causing or threatening harm, and failure to fulfill responsibilities. You should ensure that you are good on each of these grounds before admitting an addiction to your boss.

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Research Work Policies

image of attractive young business woman at desk talking happily on the phoneDepending on your workplace there may or may not be existing policies in place to determine how addicts are treated. The larger your workplace, the more likely there are policies in place to help you go to rehab and get treatment, to reintegrate you into the workforce, and otherwise to ensure you have every opportunity to recover. Smaller workplaces may not offer these resources.

You can check with HR for a full list of policies relating to addiction. Can this backfire? HR is legally required to keep your personal information private, so should your organization take any action based on an inquiry, you could take the organization to court.

Insurance – Your employer-provided insurance likely offers coverage for rehabilitation and addiction treatment

Rehabilitation Programs – Some workplaces offer addiction treatment programs which will typically include a drug rehab program and possibly medication-assisted treatment. But the treatment requirements are also likely to include methods to follow up on rehab. Here, you can likely expect a series of drug tests, integration into a self-help group such as AA or NA, and various resources for therapy and counseling.

Information and Support – Many organizations offer strong education and awareness programs to help individuals understand substance abuse and recovery. These may be helpful to you during recovery.

Policies – It’s important to understand specific work policies such as whether they might fire you for drug use within the past 30 days, whether they will offer assistance or support, and what types of ramifications (such as a performance review) you can expect after alerting your boss to your substance abuse problem.

Understanding what your organization is likely to do in response to being informed of your problem will give you a better basis with which to frame your information and tell your boss about your problem.

Be Honest

It’s easy to attempt to downplay the extent of your addiction, but chances are, people have noticed. Being honest is important. Here, you should decide what’s important to tell your boss and why. You may want to discuss these options with your doctor or a legal counselor before doing so.

Your boss will likely want to know:

  • How long you’ve been using
  • If you’ve used at work
  • If use has affected your performance
  • How often you use
  • What you’re intending to do about it

Importantly, if your substance use can be tracked to failure or poor performance on the job, you may not be protected by the law. For this reason, you should carefully consider what you are telling your boss and why before doing so.

Make Sure You’re Clean and Sober

Most employers retain the right to fire or terminate “current” substance abusers in their contract. However, this can be tricky. Different organizations use different periods (typically ranging from a few weeks to a few months) to define “current” substance abuse, which means you may want to seek out rehab before alerting your boss if you work in an organization with very strict policies.

Ensuring that you’re clean and sober, even if you’re asking for admittance into a company drug treatment program, will help to solidify your case, will help you to present yourself in the best way possible, and will help you to stay within legal grounds for retaining your job.

Have a Plan for Treatment

If you’re telling your boss that you are abusing a substance, it’s important to inform him or her that you are also seeking treatment. Here, it’s important to have a treatment plan ready, whether that’s through a company-sponsored program, an inpatient drug rehab program, or even outpatient care. You will be asked to discuss what you intend to do to seek treatment, how you intend to stick to it, and many other questions. Importantly, you don’t legally have to answer them. However, showing up with plans to seek out treatment or proof that you are currently doing so will likely help you retain your job and will show your boss that you are trying to do the right thing.
Telling your boss that you’re struggling with a substance abuse problem can be difficult. Importantly, it often isn’t necessary to do so, because the FMLA and ADA protect your rights to not disclose private medical information to your employer. If you do so, it should be with full knowledge of what you get out of it, how you are protected, and how your boss or workplace is likely to react.

Alerting your boss to your problem can help you to get time off, can help you to get treatment and get into company support programs, and might help you to come clean and feel better about yourself and your performance as a meaningful part of your recovery.

Please contact Beginnings Treatment Centers today for an honest talk about addiction programs with one of our experienced and professional addiction treatment team. We can answer any questions you may have with no cost or obligation.

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