Summit Behavioral Health, an MA addiction treatment center explains how to talk to your employer about your addiction so you can keep your job and get the lifesaving help you need.
According to an Employer Brief1 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 76 percent of people with drug or alcohol abuse problems are employed. Unfortunately, many of those people do not seek help because of the stigma associated with addiction. Many believe that having to talk to their employer about a problem with drugs or alcohol would be detrimental to their career. It takes a lot of courage to make the decision to seek help from an addiction treatment center and begin recovery for anyone. But it takes even more when one feels that there is more to lose by choosing to go, despite the fact that it is a decision that could be live saving.
Addiction is extremely difficult to overcome without professional help. Perhaps you feel like your addiction is not affecting your work right now. The reality is, it probably is. However, even if no one knows about your addiction, it will be very difficult to continue to keep it under wraps indefinitely. Addiction is a progressive disease that, when left untreated, only gets worse – never better. It is better to seek treatment now, before your job has suffered from the effects of drug addiction, so that you have a position to return to.
Once you have made the decision that you need inpatient treatment for an addiction and must be away from work for an extended period, you are going to have to talk to your employer about it. This may seem like a daunting and scary task, but it’s better done sooner rather than later. The following are some steps that you can follow to make the task less difficult.
Steps to Take Before Talking to Your Boss
There are a couple of things you should do in preparation for the conversation:
Check to see if your employer has an EAP program. Most companies offer an employee assistance program (EAP) as one of their benefits. The program is designed to help employees with personal or work-related problems that might impact their job performance, physical or mental health, and emotional well-being. Most EAP inquiries can be kept confidential and they may be able to help you with resources and support to begin your recovery.
Examine your company’s alcohol and drug policy. Check your employee handbook or with your Human Resources department to see if there is a policy specific to alcohol or drug addiction treatment. If there isn’t one, look at policies that are in place for sick employees – specifically, the process for taking a leave of absence due to illness.
Know what your rights are. The Americans with Disabilities Act2 (ADA) prohibits employees from discrimination and protects the rights of employees with disabilities. Chemical dependency is considered a disability, so employees with addiction issues cannot be discriminated against if they are performing their work duties satisfactorily.
Research treatment options and facilities. Before you speak to your employer have a plan in place for your treatment so that you can communicate exactly what your employer’s expectation should be regarding your leave of absence and return to work.
Understand the financial aspects of treatment. Missing work can cause a financial burden, but you do have some options. It’s important to become familiar with your company’s short-term disability benefits as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act3 (FMLA). Some employers will allow employees to exhaust their paid-time-off (or vacation and sick time) hours before having to use short-term disability.
Having a Professional Conversation About Your Addiction
Now comes the hard part – sitting down and discussing your situation with your boss. Ideally, you have a supervisor who is understanding and will be compassionate. But if you don’t, there are still some ways to keep the conversation as professional and painless as possible. If you have a supervisor who you do not feel comfortable having the conversation with at all, you may want to consider talking to your Human Resources department first, and having them act as an intermediary. Whether it’s your boss or HR, you can use the following steps when you have your conversation:
Keep it simple. You don’t have to give details about what you are going through, and your boss doesn’t have the right to ask. Just state simply that you currently have a substance abuse issue that requires treatment and that your treatment facility will be able to provide the necessary documentation to HR.
Ask for resources. If you haven’t already spoken to HR, this is the time to ask your supervisor who you should contact. You can also inquire about other resources your company may have for sick employees.
Request confidentiality. Clearly, your boss shouldn’t discuss your situation with other employees, but it is still a good time to request that your privacy be guarded.
Express your desire to return to work. At the end of the conversation, be sure to let your boss know that your desire is to return to work, ready to do the best job you can, as soon as your treatment is completed.
Keep records. Document any conversations that you have with your supervisor and HR regarding your treatment plans and your temporary absence from work. You may never need the documentation, but it’s better to err on the side of caution in case you do.
You are making a courageous and healthy choice to begin recovery for your addiction, don’t let the fear of telling your employer keep you from doing what is best for you and your family. You cannot be fired for asking for help, and doing so may open up doors for you that addiction has closed.
Jim Kane CEO
Summit Behavioral Health
61 Brown Street
Haverhill, MA 01830
1 Employer Brief- http://peerassistanceservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/SAMHSA_Employer-Brief1_SavebyAssurAccessToSubstAbuseTreat.pdf
2 ADA- https://www.ada.gov/ada_intro.htm
3 Family & Medical Leave Act- https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/