When you’re considering rehab for a drug or alcohol addiction, privacy is a major concern. You may worry your boss will find out you’re receiving treatment and fire you, or a prospective employer will ask about past drug abuse during an interview. Fortunately, there are laws that protect your rehab privacy when you choose to seek help for a substance use disorder. Learn your rights under some important federal laws and regulations.
HIPAA protects your medical records
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of your medical records. Under this law, your information cannot be disclosed without your written consent. There are some exceptions to this law, which we cover at the end of this article, but here are the ways HIPAA protects you:
- Your information can’t be shared in ways that don’t directly relate to your healthcare without your consent. This means that unless you give written permission, your records won’t be shared with your employer;
- You can request that your information not be shared with certain entities. You may name specific people, groups, or companies, including your insurance company (unless you are using insurance to cover a medical cost);
- You have the right to know who has seen your medical information, and to be notified whenever your information is shared.
Confidentiality of substance use disorder patient records
These federal regulations, (originally passed under the name “Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records”) are similar to HIPAA. They protect the privacy of patients seeking substance abuse treatment at a federally assisted or regulated treatment program.
- Child abuse or neglect reporting;
- Cause of death reporting;
- Court orders;
- Medical emergencies;
Equal employment opportunity commission (EEOC) protects job applicants
One of your concerns may be that prospective employers will find out you were treated for drug or alcohol abuse. Did you know the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulates interview questions?
Under these guidelines, employers are not legally allowed to ask about your addiction, since it is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are also not allowed to ask about your use of legal drugs, such as alcohol or prescriptions. However, the EEOC does not protect against illegal drug use, so employers are allowed to ask you questions such as, “Have you ever used illegal drugs?”, provided they don’t ask anything that would reveal your substance use disorder, such as “How often did you use drugs?” Keep in mind that if you’ve been convicted of any drug or alcohol-related crimes, like driving under the influence, employers can also ask about convictions.
If you are asked a question that you believe is illegal under EEOC guidelines, don’t lie. You can decline to answer, but lying will give your employer grounds to fire you if they find out the truth.
Exceptions to these laws
Although these laws are in place to protect patients, there are certain circumstances where your treatment information may be disclosed without your consent.
- Court orders: Your medical records can be subpoenaed if you find yourself in court. Or, a judge may require proof that you received treatment, especially if you agreed to enter rehab as a way to stay out of jail;
- Insurance purposes: If you pay for rehab with insurance, your treatment will be documented for insurance purposes and will likely be reviewed to determine coverage. Only insurance company employees will review it, and they will not share the information with your employer;
- Healthcare: Your information will be shared among healthcare professionals involved in your treatment. Although you can make a request to exclude certain people, groups, or companies, this request doesn’t have to be honored;
- Law enforcement investigations: Law enforcement officials are able to access your medical records in connection with a criminal investigation.
Although these exceptions exist, you shouldn’t let that stop you from receiving the treatment you need. The consequences for not receiving help for your addiction could be far worse than the record of the fact that you went to rehab. You could lose your job, get convicted of a drug or alcohol-related crime, seriously damage your health, or even die from your substance use disorder.
Please keep in mind that this article is not intended to give legal advice. It is for informational purposes only. If you have more questions about drug and alcohol rehab policy, consult with a private attorney.