Making the choice to get treatment for addiction can be daunting, and many people considering rehab have concerns about keeping their jobs. Whether you have concerns about the loss of income during an inpatient rehab stay or worries about retaining your job after time away, career concerns can be a stumbling block on your path toward recovery. Fortunately, there are laws and protections in place to ensure that your job isn’t in danger when you seek help for addiction.

Keeping your job while in rehab - Stressing at the office

Making the commitment to get help and entering rehab may even help your career. Once you’re free from addiction, it becomes easier to keep your job and gain the skills you need for future promotions. Your health improves when you aren’t constantly under the weight of addiction, making it easier to focus your energy on work tasks and improving your skills.

Balancing job responsibilities and rehab isn’t uncommon. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 75 percent of people who need help recovering from substance abuse or addiction have jobs. Plenty of people have walked this path before you, so you aren’t alone in seeking treatment while employed.

Government Job Protection During Rehab

When you enter a treatment facility for drug or alcohol abuse and addiction, you are automatically covered by legal protection against job loss. The United States federal government has specific protections in place that apply to anyone getting medical treatment, and rehab qualifies. The Americans With Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are the two pieces of legislation that provide protection.

How Does FMLA Work?

FMLA specifically sets out the requirements that employers must follow when someone takes sick leave. Because addiction is considered an illness, employers have to treat it the same way as other illnesses.

All local government agencies, federal agencies and businesses of a certain size must allow you to take a medical leave for up to 12 weeks, if you have been an employee for at least one year. This includes taking time to attend an inpatient rehabilitation program. You cannot be fired for your addiction or treatment while you are in a rehab program if you have properly notified your employer you are using your medical leave.

Protection from firing isn’t a guarantee of pay though. FMLA requires employers to give you up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, to supplement income during this time you can also apply to short term disability through your employer. Short-term disability will guarantee you a portion of your pay even while you are in treatment.

Accessing Your Government-Provided Protections

Before you can claim the protections you’re entitled to, you have to inform your employer that you qualify for them. This means that you have to tell your boss that you need to take a medical leave and would like to use the FMLA protections and, if needed, apply for short-term disability. You do not need to stipulate that it involves addiction, or that you are going to a rehab. If you do not take these steps to inform your employer before leaving for treatment, or begin taking unaccounted absences, you may not be covered by the FMLA protections.

If your employer refuses to allow you the full 12 weeks of medical leave for addiction, or any other medical reasons, or you are penalized for your condition, you can sue for discrimination.

In addition to government-provided protections during addiction treatment, you may also be covered by union rules if you belong to a union. Some unions require employers to let you seek out treatment before firing you. If your employer has a current contract with a union, speak to your union representative about what protections are in place. Concerns about your job aren’t a reason to avoid getting treatment, but they are a reason to make sure you’re thoroughly prepared before you begin an inpatient rehab program.

Steps to Take Before Inpatient Treatment

To access your FMLA benefits and protections, you need to first formally inform your employer that you need to take medical leave. Set up a private meeting with your boss or your company’s HR department to discuss your illness and treatment plan.

Before your meeting, go over your company’s employee handbook or official policies regarding medical leave and substance abuse. Be prepared to answer questions about how long your treatment program should last and how you plan to reassign duties or prepare your department for the time period while you are away.

During your meeting, you have to disclose your need for medical leave, you do not have to disclose specific reasons or what treatment you are seeking. You also need to specifically state that you want to use the protections offered by the FMLA and ADA. It may feel awkward or uncomfortable to discuss this with your employer, but this step is essential if you want to make sure your job is protected during your leave. Having a professional attitude about the process can help you get through the discussion. You may also want to emphasize how seeking this treatment can improve your work performance and benefit the company. No matter what you say during your meeting, your employer is required to keep information discussed about your condition and treatment confidential because this is considered private health and medical information.

If your employer was planning to fire you and you invoke your legal and union-contracted protections that allow you to attempt treatment first, you might need to sign a Return-to-Work Agreement. This document defines the conditions of your leave and what you need to do before being allowed to return to work. The document might include requirements for regular drug tests or reports from your medical provider once you return and an agreement to remain completely abstinent from drugs and alcohol after treatment. Breaking this agreement after you return gives your company the legal right to fire you, but if you maintain the agreement, they cannot fire you for addiction or treatment-related reasons.

Maintaining Your Focus While in Rehab

Staying focused on recovery while in rehab helps you get back to your job more quickly and makes long-term success more likely. While being away from your job might cause worry or stress, keep in mind that your health is more important in the long term. Balancing rehab with a job isn’t just possible; it’s the only way to ensure that your career can move forward free of the interference that substance abuse and addiction cause.

Exploring Outpatient Options With a Job

For most people with substance abuse issues, inpatient treatment is necessary to break free of addiction and start your journey toward recovery. Once you’ve made it past this first step, though, outpatient treatment could be a way to complete your treatment while you return to your job. Outpatient rehabilitation programs involve therapy sessions, support group meetings and drug testing scheduled throughout the week, so you can attend rehab after work or on weekends without interfering with your job duties.

While balancing rehab and your job can be difficult, getting help can benefit your life and your career in the long run. Take the first step toward getting treatment for drug and alcohol abuse or addiction by calling The Treatment Center today at (866) 295-6003.