I’m Going to Rehab – What Should I Tell My Employer?

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Taking time out of your life – and time off work – to go to rehab is a huge step. While addiction treatment may feel like a daunting prospect, it will definitely improve your life for the better.

You may also be feeling anxious about what to tell your employer. Maybe that fear is something that even delayed your decision to get help. You might be worried about losing your job, being treated differently, and feeling alienated from your work colleagues.

Thanks to the stigma of addiction, those fears and anxieties are very real for many people.

Stigma is a reality for many people with a 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 doesn’t have to be a barrier to your treatment. Without proper treatment for your addiction, its progressive nature may cost you your job anyway. So it is best to tackle the issue now.

How Does Addiction Affect My Job?

What the general public believes about addiction and how it actually affects people are two different things. Many people associate addiction with negative stereotypes – like the notion that, if you’re addicted, you must be homeless.

But 55 percent of people with a substance use disorder are employed and up to 25 percent of workers are on the job while intoxicated.

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

  • Forgetful about meetings
  • Struggling to get through all of your tasks or even 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 when I’d spent all of mine on drugs and alcohol.

Trying to keep a lid on my addiction became virtually impossible. I ended up losing my job. It doesn’t have to be this way if you seek help.

In fact, 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 be able to get support through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), since addiction treatment is a qualifying condition.

Some employers offer support for employees going to rehab via various programs, such as an employee assistance program or EAP.

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

There are a number of ways to approach your employer about taking time out for addiction treatment.

Here are some top tips to assist the process:

  • businesswoman packing up deskDo Your Research: See if your employer has an EAP or qualifies under the FMLA for treatment. Be sure to look up your rights under protected conditions like addiction.
  • Be Prepared: Having done your research, you’ll know your rights as an employee and have reasonable expectations. Next make a list of your assets to the company. Be sure to note how you contribute to the organization. If anything, this serves as a helpful reminder about all that you do and why your employer needs you.
  • 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 is supported by your physician is the best course of action. Be open to questions but don’t reveal anything that you think may cross a boundary or put you in a difficult position.
  • 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. You may risk worsening the situation and your addiction.
  • Your Addiction May Not be a Surprise: Remember, signs of addiction are fairly easy to spot once you know what to look for, especially if it has been 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?

Employers 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 might be to consult a legal professional before going to rehab.

Call 800-681-1058 (Info iconWho Answers?) to learn about flexible treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction.

Olivia Pennelle
Olivia Pennelle
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.