You are almost there. You have admitted to yourself that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, and you need to get help. You have picked up the phone a dozen times to contact a treatment center, but each time you hang up before you dial. There is still one thing standing in your way. It is your job.
This scenario plays out for thousands of addicts every day. Whether you work in construction, the school system, on Wall Street, or in an office building, everybody is afraid of losing his or her job for seeking help.
Employees who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction are usually unaware of their rights when it comes to seeking treatment for their disease. Read on to find out how you and your job are protected under two separate federal laws.
Americans With Disabilities Act
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) classifies chemical dependency as a disability. This means that you are protected from discrimination based on your addiction as long as you are qualified for the job you do.
However, there is an exception if you are currently using/abusing drugs or alcohol. If the employer’s policy states that employees can be fired for inadequate job performance, then you are vulnerable. If your work is suffering because of your addiction, you are eligible for termination.
That said, if you voluntarily seek treatment before you are fired, you instantly become protected. Under the ADA, an employee cannot be fired for past transgressions or poor performance. This is added impetus for an addict to seek treatment immediately; it will potentially save your job.
Alcoholics also enjoy added protection under the ADA. Even if your employer becomes aware of your condition, you cannot be fired as long as you are not endangering anybody and your job performance has not suffered. This is not true for those addicted to illegal substances, however.
Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave for a variety of medical reasons, including drug or alcohol dependency treatment. You cannot be fire while attending treatment, and your position, salary, and benefits are guaranteed upon your return.
However, the FMLA has strict eligibility requirements. You must have worked for this employer for the past 12 consecutive months, and have at least 1,250 accumulated hours.
In addition, the process for requesting leave is quite formal and long. It is important that you speak to your employer before you commit to a treatment facility; otherwise, you lose FMLA protection.
How to Approach Your Employer
This may be one of the hardest conversations you ever have with your boss, but it is extremely important. Think about what you are afraid of:
- Job Loss: As employment laws now stand, your job will likely be protected while you seek treatment.
- Judgment: If you are afraid that your employer and co-workers will think poorly of you for seeking treatment, you are not alone. It is a common fear. Chances are that your boss and co-workers will appreciate your decision and be ready to support you on your journey. That support network will be extremely important both during and after your treatment, and it is crucial that it is based on trust and honesty.
Speak to your employer with openness and honesty, and be content in the knowledge that your decision to seek treatment for substance abuse is the best possible decision you can make for yourself, for your loved ones, and even for your employer.