Employment Challenges to Getting Addiction Treatment
There are many hurdles an addict might face in getting treatment for addiction and all too often their employer is one of them. While addiction is a disease with significant medical implications, employers don’t always recognize it as such. For employees struggling with a substance use disorder, this can make seeking help—especially inpatient treatment—challenging.
This Labor Day, we’re taking a look at what you should know about addiction in the workplace, regardless of what rung on the corporate ladder you might occupy.
What Employees Need to Know
You have rights. Federal law has several ways of protecting you if you are an employee looking for help with a substance use problem. Before we get into those details, there’s one catch: most of the rights go out the window if you are drinking or using on the job. (No judgment, I was hardly a perfect employee myself prior to getting sober, but it’s important to know that being clean on the job is a big factor in being able to exercise your rights). Now that we’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at some of the laws in place to protect your right to medical treatment.
The majority of employers are required by law to give employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a major medically necessary treatment (yes, treatment for a substance use disorder can count as a major medical necessity — more on that in a bit). Further, as long as an employee meets the requirements for the Family and Medical Leave Act (has been with the company for a certain period of time, etc.) the employee cannot be punished or sanctioned for requesting medical leave.
Many employees are also concerned about confidentiality in the workplace. If you leave work to seek medical treatment, is your boss going to have to spread the word around the office about where you’ve been? Not legally, they’re not. Your employer cannot disclose any medical information about your or your treatment without your consent.
Aftercare or continuing care is an extremely important part of addiction recovery and your rights to maintain that recovery once you’ve returned to work are clear. As long as it would not cause “undue harm,” your employer must provide reasonable allowances for medically necessary treatment. If an employee has an aftercare group meeting or weekly meeting with a psychologist, the employee has the right to alter their work schedule to accommodate those appointments.
Applying for a Job
While most of this covers what to do if you need treatment while employed, many people also worry about a potential employer discovering their past substance abuse. While it’s an understandable fear, as stigma and misinformation around addiction still exist, the law is on the side of the employee here, as well. It is illegal for a potential employer to ask about substance abuse or treatment for substance abuse. Additionally, if a potential employer finds out about past treatment for substance abuse (say, for example, you’ve written a bunch of articles about it and published them online), the Americans With Disabilities act ensures that it’s illegal for the employer to use that information to discriminate against you.
Finally, when considering inpatient treatment, take a good look at your health insurance to see what’s covered by your plan. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) states that “group health plans and health insurance issuers to ensure that financial requirements (such as copays, deductibles) and treatment limitations (such as visit limits) applicable to mental health or substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits are no more restrictive than the predominant requirements or limitations applied to substantially all medical/surgical benefits.”
The bottom line is this: don’t let work, or anything else, stand in the way of getting you the help you need. There are plenty of laws in place to help protect your job while you pursue medical treatment.