If you’re struggling with a drug or alcohol use disorder, one of your biggest concerns is likely keeping it a secret from your employer. Many people avoid seeking treatment because they fear they will lose their job. Luckily, there are federal laws that protect you from being fired for a drug or alcohol use disorder. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also guarantees you unpaid time off to get treatment (if you and your employer meet certain eligibility requirements).
If you do decide to get treatment, you may wonder how to tell your boss, or if you even need to let them know you’re seeking treatment. In some cases, you can keep the entire matter private. In others, you may be required to disclose your disorder. Here are some circumstances to consider.
FMLA allows employers to request proof of medical condition
If you decide to take time off under FMLA, you are not required to disclose your condition. However, your employer has a right to ask for documentation from a medical provider to verify your condition. Your healthcare provider doesn’t have to go into specific details about your situation — usually, it is enough for them to state your condition and its impact on your work, and why a leave of absence is necessary.
Your employer must keep this information confidential from coworkers, so you don’t have to fear workplace gossip. If you decide to use FMLA, you must make the request before entering rehab, or you will not be protected by the law.
ADA allows you to request reasonable accommodations
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you may ask your employer for reasonable accommodations to help you perform your job if you have a disability. In the case of a substance use disorder, a reasonable accommodation might be something like a modified schedule that allows you to attend counseling sessions.
If you request accommodation, you must provide documentation of your condition. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends, “If you do not want the employer to know your specific diagnosis, it may be enough to provide documentation that describes your condition more generally.” Talk to your doctor or consult with a lawyer to know how much detail must be disclosed.
Consult your company policy
Your employer likely has a policy about this type of situation, so check the employee handbook to know what the rules are. The FMLA does not protect you if your employer has an established policy about drug or alcohol abuse that would overrule its protections.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “If, however, the employer has an established policy, applied in a nondiscriminatory manner that has been communicated to all employees, that provides that under certain circumstances, including enrolling in a substance abuse program, an employee may be terminated for substance abuse, pursuant to that policy an employee may be terminated whether or not the employee is presently taking FMLA leave.”
There have been many cases where terminated employees sued their employers, and the outcomes have varied. It is best to consult with an employment attorney for advice. This article does not provide legal counsel and is for informational purposes only.
What if I’m using an EAP or health insurance?
If you plan on using an employee assistance program (EAP) or your company’s insurance to cover the cost of treatment, you may worry your employer will be able to view your treatment information. Fortunately, EAPs are completely confidential.
As for insurance, your employer can only see general information about how insurance has been used. They may know how many claims were made overall. They can see how many claims each employee made, but they cannot find out what the claims were for, or the facility names or treatment providers.
Thanks to federal protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), your employer cannot view your medical records without your written consent.
Outpatient treatment programs provide the greatest flexibility
It’s impossible to keep your normal work schedule while receiving inpatient treatment. If you receive outpatient treatment, however, you may be able to have a flexible treatment schedule that allows you to work your normal hours.
Keep in mind that if you’re using medication-assisted treatment, this may show up in drug test results. Most workplaces have a policy of random drug tests. If your employer catches a drug like Vivitrol in your test results, you will need to explain that you’re receiving treatment, or risk being fired. In many cases, employers will support your decision to get help for a substance use disorder.
How to keep your treatment completely private
If you wish to keep your treatment completely private, you have a few options. Rather than taking medical leave or short-term disability, you could use vacation time for treatment. Or you could enter an outpatient program and attend therapy outside of work hours.
You may think the best way to keep your addiction private is to not use drugs or alcohol on the job. Keep in mind that abusing substances outside of work can still affect your job performance, and many substances stay in your system for a while, so they might show up on drug tests. Likewise, refraining from using drugs or alcohol can be virtually impossible once you’re addicted. Getting treatment as soon as possible is the best way to ensure your substance use disorder doesn’t interfere with your job performance.
If you feel ready to seek help for your substance use disorder, call Rehab After Work at (610) 644-6464 to speak to an intake specialist. Our trained specialists will advise you on the best way to enter rehab while still keeping your job.