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.
Returning to Work After Addiction Treatment
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.
What You Need to Talk About When Going Back to Work After Drug Rehab
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:
- When you apply for a job, many companies ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime, and this includes drug crimes. You cannot lie on this part of your application, but you do not have to disclose every detail if you have been convicted of a crime like misdemeanor possession or driving under the influence. You can simply answer “yes,” and then it is your decision how much you choose to disclose after that. If you have not been convicted of a drug crime and went to detox and rehabilitation without a court order, you do not have to disclose this experience.
- People who are taking medication-assisted treatment (MAT) like methadone or buprenorphine on a long taper may need to disclose this information to their employer in the event of a drug test. Many companies randomly test their employees for the presence of substances of abuse like marijuana or cocaine, but the point of this testing is to ensure that the workplace is safe for all employees and that no one is actively intoxicated. This can be difficult for drugs that remain in the body for a long time or for important prescription medications like methadone since it looks like a substance of abuse. With a doctor’s supervision, methadone can be a lifesaving medicine that can treat both pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms. Discuss this situation with your employer.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people who take medications from being fired or punished by their employers if they find the presence of some substances in a drug test. It is important to be clear what these medications are and how you use them. The ADA does not protect someone who abuses prescription drugs and is impaired on the job even if the drug was acquired originally with a doctor’s prescription.
Legal and Employer Protections Can Help You
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.
- One law that helps many people get treatment is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Substance abuse treatment is covered as a reason to temporarily step away from your job so that you can focus on healing. Your employer may not take legal action against you for this. Employers may also not act against your family members who offer you help while you are in rehabilitation, even if they have to step away from their jobs or spend less time at work to do so. Absence due to being actively intoxicated, or struggling with feeling sick after abusing a substance, is not covered by the FMLA.
- Your job may offer an employee assistance program (EAP). This can provide help with finding and attending short-term therapy or other treatment-related assistance outside what your health insurance already covers.
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.
Help for People Who are Struggling
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.
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.