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Employment and Addiction: Should you Tell Your Boss You Need Help?

When it comes to getting help and addiction recovery, it can be hard to make the choice to do so because of fear of missed work and the pay that comes with it. However, in the United States, there are laws and rules that protect you in case you need to take a leave of absence. There are some companies and certain industries that forbid any substance use due to the nature of the work: e.g. forklift driving, working with construction equipment, working with hazardous materials or with dangerous tools. It’s important to remember that no matter what your work situation is, your life comes first. Recovery always comes first. You can not be a good employee, mother, father, son, daughter, husband or wife if you are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse and trying to get through life.

Learn the Company Policy

Before sitting down with your boss, do some investigation. You can consult your company’s handbook if one exists. You should be looking for resources for sick employees, short term disability, or temporary leaves of absence. Technically, you are not required to tell your boss that you have an addiction, however, you do need to give them a reason for leaving if you need inpatient rehabilitation. Also, check if your company has a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy. Some jobs, like those that require using heavy machinery, may have a zero tolerance policy for the safety of their employees. If this is the case, you need to consider what the conversation with your boss is going to be about.

Tell the Truth (Honesty is Also a Great Start to Recovery)

Keep in mind that your boss may already know that you struggle with substance abuse. If you have gotten to the point where you need inpatient recovery, and it has been hard to do your job well, your boss may be already aware something is up. Schedule a time near the end of the day you can speak with your boss without interruptions. Speak plainly and honestly. Begin by telling then you have a problem that you require help resolving. By being honest, you may gain an ally in your workplace that can help you through recovery. Up until now, you have been able to keep your addiction from your boss and coworkers, but it doesn’t mean you will always be able to. The longer you allow addiction to take hold of you, the more it can affect your home and work life.

Alternatives to Telling Your Supervisor about Your Addiction Problem

If you don’t believe you can safely tell your supervisor that you have a problem, you may have some other options: Vacation time – Not an ideal option, but if left without alternatives, you can take your vacation time in order to begin your rehabilitation. Sick time – Although you may not be left with many or any days when you return from rehabilitation, taking sick time is a viable option. Family medical leave – You can discuss this with your company’s human resources department. You may be able to take medical leave without disclosing your reasons for absence to your boss. Give another reason for your absence – Without lying, you may be able to find ways to tell your boss you need to take a leave of absence. You can say it’s for your health, or to assist with an ailing family member. Whatever you decide to do, do not do anything that could jeopardize your job. Investing in rehab requires time and money. You want to be sure that you return to a good job with the full support of your supervisor and the HR department.

Talk to Human Resources & Your Insurance About Rehab

Whether or not you decide to disclose the reasons for your leave to you boss, it’s a good idea to discuss your leave with your human resources department. They may be able to help you review your benefits plan where it concerns your medical condition and absence. Make sure to come to your meeting with any supporting notes from your doctor as that may speed up the process. They can help you look at things like Family Medical Leave. According to the Department of Labor, “The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave. FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal employment opportunity for men and women.” You qualify for FMLA if you are a:

  • Private-sector employer, with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer;
  • Public agency, including a local, state, or Federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees it employs; or
  • Public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees it employs.

Your HR department is a resource to you. If they do not follow the proper protocols, or if your employment is terminated, or you feel they are not following mandated labor law. Contact a lawyer or the learn more from the Department of Labor website.

Tell or Co-workers About Addiction… Or Not

Good news: you don’t have to tell your co-workers if you are not comfortable with it. The law doesn’t require it, and in fact, if your boss or HR department are informed, they are required by law to keep it confidential. Don’t feel pressured to tell anyone anything you think may compromise your job or your relationship with your co-workers. The concerns you have leaving work will likely be there waiting when you return from recovery. For some, your co-workers are also your friends, and if you feel like informing them will help you gain sobriety, then do what feels right. If your work relationships are good, you may have a wonderful, supportive team waiting for you when you return. We all need friends, especially during stressful times.

Before You Leave for Rehab or Addiction Treatment

Just like when you leave for vacation or for parental leave, it’s important to tie up loose ends. It will be easier to get your co-workers to be supportive of your recovery if you don’t leave them in a lurch. Be sure to finish any pertinent projects, answer emails and give long-term projects to others in your team with the help of your manager. The transition will be smoother when you return to work if you this. Do not fear that your job won’t be the same when you return. In fact, it will probably be much better! With a clear head, you can focus on your career and getting ahead. If your co-workers are aware of your situation, you may find that they are happy to receive you when you return. They can be a great resource and good influence for your sobriety.

Get the Help You Need for Addiction and Change Your Life

The faster you get help, the sooner you can return to work. Don’t let fear of losing your job or people finding out about your struggles with addiction prevent you from getting the help you need. You, your family, your friends, coworkers, and society as a whole benefits from your being sober and happy. Look for a recovery or detox program that has the tools you need to help you with your addiction.