Perhaps you’ve reached out to a recovery center because you’re ready to fight your substance use disorder. This is a hard decision to make, and now, you have to tell your employer about it.
Many substance users convince themselves that they’re okay because they continue to have a job. It’s estimated that 70% of substance users hold a steady job, which may tend to make them feel like things are normal. Still, you have to be honest about why you won’t be coming back to work for some time. Approaching this subject with anyone is challenging, but this task is possible with a little guidance.
What Are Your Rights?
The first thing to take into consideration is your rights. It’s important to know your rights regarding rehab and your work if you’re going to have this conversation. While it can be a scary conversation to think about, knowing more about this subject makes it easier to complete this step.
The first thing you should know is that the Family and Medical Leave Act, or the FMLA, which passed in 1993, protects you. This law gives employees the right to leave for up to 12 weeks in order to participate in a rehabilitation program. It’s important to highlight, however, that employees have to qualify for this. An employee will be deemed eligible if they:
- Have been working with the same employer for at least 12 months. These 12 months don’t need to happen consecutively; you could have worked 12 months on and off as long as you worked those months with the same employer.
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours during your time with your employer. Part-time work will not provide enough hours.
- Work for a facility that has enough employees, meaning they have more than 50 employees working there. This can’t be a company that has a few employees in various states as there must be 50 or more employees within 75 miles for you to qualify.
- Suffer from a serious and chronic health condition. These include cancer and other common ailments. Thankfully, lawmakers have come to understand that a substance use disorder is a dangerous chronic condition.
Knowing that the law is protecting you during this conversation should help put you somewhat at ease.
If, for some reason, the problem takes longer than 12 weeks and you can’t come back to work, employers aren’t required to keep your job safe. Some may do so out of kindness, but this often isn’t the case, which can be scary to acknowledge going into this conversation. This is the reason many activists and informed voters are doing their best to fight for more help.
Why Are Employees Scared to Talk About This?
The following are some of the common reasons people may be apprehensive to talk to their employers about what’s going on.
- Poor Choices: Individuals suffering from substance use disorder know that many people may not look at their condition as a sickness; they look at it as a result of poor choices. People who care about their work are afraid that they won’t be trusted anymore because coworkers will see this problem as a sign that their ideas and choices are bad. As difficult as this may seem, you have to operate on the belief that you’ll be able to regain that trust afterward. Right now, though, you have to focus on yourself.
- Moral Impurity: Some people worry that their employers will look at this as a moral issue, which could invite other thoughts about them as a person. An employer may no longer trust you to make moral or ethical choices because you fell victim to this disorder. Maybe you’re afraid they won’t let you handle money, or you fear they’ll assign another employee to keep an eye on you, which may make you feel like a criminal. These scenarios can certainly provide a fair amount of tension, but you’ll learn how to teach others about this disorder so that they treat you with the proper amount of understanding.
- Gossip: Another thing some employees fear is gossip. The idea that people at work may find out about your substance use disorder is unnerving; you’re not sure how they’ll react or what they’ll say behind your back. You might be worried that you’ll lose those friends at work simply because they misunderstand your condition. There’s also the concern that the workplace will become hostile when coworkers learn of your substance use disorder. The good news is that employers can’t disclose your condition or the reason you’re leaving. If they do say anything, they’d be in violation of the FMLA, ADA and GINA. Those are just a few acts on your side, which means you can bring legal actions against your employer if they tell people at work what’s going on with you. The chances of something like this actually happening are pretty low, though. Keep in mind that your employer can talk to some people about this, such as HR, but it’s on a strict need-to-know basis, so what you tell your employer should remain safe.
How to Tell Your Boss You’re Going to Rehab
While you may not want to talk about rehab with your employer, at least you know that certain laws have been put in place to protect you. Yes, there is a stigma associated with substance use disorder, but you can deal with that afterward. Part of the reason we at Granite Recovery Centers ask you to find a support group when you leave our treatment center is that we know you’re going to need support.
Hopefully, some of the support you receive comes from family and friends, but they likely won’t be able to understand everything you’re going through. In fact, many of the struggles you’re going to face will be better understood by people who are facing something similar. These support groups will help navigate some of the bad things that happen as a result of this disorder.
When you’re finally ready to talk your employer, you want to keep the following in mind:
- Talk about what this job means to you. Be sincere, and be sure to mention the positive things that this employment opportunity has done for you. Talk about how important it is to perform well in this position. Showing that this company has become a part of your identity is vital.
- Express that you have a medical condition. You have to tell your employer that this medical condition requires treatment that will pull you away from work for some time. Be sure to disclose the amount of time you might need.
- No matter how much you may want to conceal what’s wrong, some employers require a medical health certification to grant you leave. This is done to verify the absence, and it’s going to reveal your issue. In these instances, it may be better to be upfront. Be as clear as you can when you’re describing the health condition you’re facing.
- If you need to, you can bring up the fact that you looked into your FMLA rights so that you know you qualify. If you feel like you don’t need to discuss this or it doesn’t seem like your employer is giving you any pushback, then you can keep this to yourself.
- Try not to be pushy about how serious the situation is. Your employer doesn’t need the details. Just tell them as much as you feel is pertinent.
- One thing you may have to touch on is your performance at work. If the disorder has affected your job, you should address it. If it’s caused you to be late or led you to work less than what’s optimal, then you should definitely address these issues. Admitting this shows accountability; just make sure you tell them you want to get back to normal and ask what your employer expects from you.
It’s important that you be open to intensive outpatient treatment, which is something that we offer here at Granite Recovery Centers. In some cases, employers don’t want you to leave work completely, and this type of treatment allows you to do both with certain limitations. It’s possible that your employer will be a little more flexible with your schedule to accommodate this treatment.
If you feel like you need to, practice this conversation at home as much as you can. Practicing a hard conversation a few times before you do it helps prepare you for it. Those nerves you’re feeling could alleviate a bit if you practice or visualize the conversation. Visualization is something you can do on your own, but you can practice the conversation with a trusted friend or family member.
Coming Back to Work
It’s important to talk about returning to work. Ideally, the employer is going to help you keep your job, but that may not happen. The employer may just ensure that you come back to a similar job. Talk to your employer about what you might expect when you come back. This part of the conversation is going to be a little strange, but it’s important so that you know what to expect. Try to be understanding if you won’t be able to come back to your current position.
Returning to work is important, however, because it helps reduce the chances of relapsing. Leaving a treatment center without a job makes it harder to feel like things are normal, and that doesn’t help when you’re trying to keep yourself on the right path. If you notice that you are treated differently at work, that could be considered discrimination. The chances of something like that happening to you are relatively low, but know that help is available.
Additionally, it might be a good idea to keep a journal after you return to work. The journal will help you keep track of how things are going. If, for some reason, you feel like there is a change, then you can show it with documentation and seek a solution. A person with any other ailment isn’t treated differently, so you should receive the same treatment.
At Granite Recovery Centers, we believe it’s important to be aware of your rights because we know you’re scared to approach this topic with your employer. The people who come to our treatment center have all sorts of stories, so we know that compassion and understanding may not be something you’ve experienced a great deal of, but you can expect it from our staff. If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to call us. We have the experience and resources to help make a difference.