I’m Going to Rehab — What Do I Tell My Employer?

Olivia Pennelle
Calendar icon Last Updated: 09/13/2023
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Going to rehab is a huge step in putting your health and wellness first. While treatment may feel like a daunting prospect, it will improve your life for the better.

And telling your employer that isn’t exactly easy.

You may feel anxious about what to tell your employer. It may’ve even kept you from getting help. You might be worried about losing your job, being treated differently, or alienated from your work colleagues.

Those fears and anxieties are very real for many people due to the stigma of addiction.

Stigma is a reality for many people with substance use disorder. Studies show that stigma is a major barrier to getting treatment. In fact, less than 10 percent of people with addiction get the help they need.

But stigma should not be a barrier to your treatment. Without taking care of your addiction, the progressive nature of addiction may mean you don’t have a job in the future anyway.

So, it’s best to tackle the issue now.

How Does Addiction Affect My Job?

employee addictionWhat we believe about addiction and how it actually affects people are two different things. Many people associate addiction with negative stereotypes — like the idea that if you’re addicted, you must be homeless.

However, 76 percent of people with a substance use disorder are employed and up to 25 percent of workers are working while intoxicated.

While you may think you’re functioning or hiding it well, your employer may already be concerned because of how it’s affecting your job. Perhaps you are:

  • Forgetful about meetings
  • Struggling to get through your tasks or stay on task
  • Calling in sick frequently
  • Coming into work hungover

When I was in active addiction, I was totally unreliable at work. I would often call in sick or show up so hungover that I could barely do my job. I would obsess all day about picking up substances on the way home.

I also used to borrow money from co-workers after I’d spent all of mine on drugs and alcohol.

Trying to keep a lid on my addiction became virtually impossible. I lost my job. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Some employers — depending on their size and your employee status — offer support for going to rehab through various programs, such as an employee assistance program, or EAP. You may also find support through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) since addiction treatment is a qualifying condition.

How Should I Tell My Employer That I’m Going to Rehab?

There are several ways to approach your employer about taking time out for addiction treatment.

Here are some top tips to assist the process:

  • Do your research: See if your employer has an EAP or qualifies under the FMLA for treatment. Look up your rights.
  • Be prepared: After doing your research, you’ll know your rights as an employee and what reasonable expectations can be made. Next, make a list of your assets to the company. Be candid and offer reminders on how you’ve contributed. If nothing else, your self-awareness and gumption to be better indicates that you’e also ready to be a better employee.
  • Ensure your treatment is already arranged: This allows you to be specific with your boss about when you plan to leave and for how long.
  • Be open and honest: You don’t have to tell your employer every detail about your substance use disorder and how it affects you. But you can tell them that you are struggling with addiction. You can also explain that treatment, supported by your physician or psychiatrist, is the best course of action. Be open to questions but keep your boundaries. There’s still a difference between business and personal.
  • Ask for confidentiality: With the exception of HR, and providing the reason for leave under the FMLA, your employer should not disclose your reason for absence.
  • Ask how you can help: By offering to help prepare work, or guidelines for your role, you are easing the burden of your absence and your employer will appreciate it.
  • Don’t avoid the conversation: Avoiding the discussion is likely to cause more stress to you and your employer, worsening the situation and your addiction.
  • Your addiction may not be a surprise: Remember, signs of addiction are fairly easy to spot, especially if it’s affecting your performance.
  • Tell your boss first: Even if your coworkers are friends, you should tell your boss first in case they find out through the grapevine.

Can I Get Fired for Going to Rehab?

work addictionEmployers are prohibited by federal law from discriminating against employees because of their disability. Substance use disorders are a protected condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. However, there is no hard and fast rule here.

While you might be protected under these federal laws, it depends on your individual circumstances. Your best course of action is to consult a legal professional before going to rehab.

Call 800-681-1058 (Info iconWho Answers?) now to learn more about addiction treatment programs near you.


Pen iconAuthor
Olivia Pennelle
Olivia Pennelle, BA, MSW
Counselor, Expert Author, Podcaster
Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an author, journalist & content strategist. She's the founder of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a popular site dedicated to providing the ingredients for a fulfilling life in recovery. Liv also co-founded the podcast Breaking Free: Your Recovery, Your Way. She found recovery in 2012 & her pathway is a fluid patchwork of what works for her.