Overcoming the Fear of Losing Your Job to Get Addiction Treatment
One of the main reasons why women do not get help for a problem with addiction is because they are afraid of losing their jobs. The thought of having to tell a boss that you have a substance abuse disorder can be terrifying. Most professional women automatically assume they will be fired if they need to go to rehab. This is just not true.
Addiction can be a life-threatening situation. Addiction affects women in profound ways. However; we recognize that you need a job to pay the bills.
Let’s talk about how to keep your job AND go to rehab.
You Do Not Necessarily Have to Tell Your Boss You Need Addiction Treatment
Here is some great news – you may not have to tell your boss if you need to go to rehab. Yes, it’s true!
A substance use disorder is recognized as a legitimate medical condition in the eyes of the law. This means you may not have to disclose the specifics of your situation to your boss or manager. In many cases, you can work directly with your human resources department.
As an addicted person, you have the right to take advantage of Family Medical Emergency Leave – also known as FMLA – if it your company meets certain requirements.
This allows those who have a problem with substance abuse to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to go to rehab if necessary. All of this happens through HR. You will only have to tell your boss that you are taking FMLA. You do not have to say why.
Let’s talk more about this.
What You Should Know About FMLA and Addiction Treatment
Here is what the United States Department of Labor has to say about taking FMLA for substance use disorder treatment:
“Treatment for substance abuse may be a serious health condition if the conditions for inpatient care and/or continuing treatment are met. FMLA leave may only be taken for substance abuse treatment provided by a health care provider or by a provider of health care services on referral by a health care provider. Absence because of the employee’s use of the substance, rather than for treatment, does not qualify for FMLA leave.”
Furthermore, “the employer may not take action against the employee because the employee has exercised his or her right to take FMLA leave for substance abuse treatment.”
Does Your Company Offer FMLA?
It is a good idea to consult with your HR representative immediately if you are thinking about going to rehab. FMLA applies to all public agencies, public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees.
HR will be your strongest advocate as you navigate this process. You do not have to disclose your use of illegal drugs. You can simply say that you have a substance use disorder and that you need help.
If you are afraid of losing your job for abusing heroin, for example, you do not have to share that information. But, if your HR department explains that they do not have a strict policy against those who admit to having a drug problem, you may feel more comfortable sharing details.
Navigating the FMLA Process With HR
Your HR rep will guide you through the process of getting company approval for FMLA. This will not involve your boss. In fact, privacy laws ensure that your medical information will be protected. It would be a violation of federal law for HR to share your specific situation with anyone on your work team.
To get FMLA, you will have to get a written recommendation by a doctor or addiction expert for substance abuse treatment. You cannot simply go to your company and say you want to go to rehab. Keep this in mind. Talk to HR about the necessary paperwork. They will help you determine how to get the documentation you need.
Once you are approved for FMLA, your HR department will notify your boss. In the meantime, you should go to your boss once you know FMLA has been approved. Explain that you are going to be recovering from a medical condition for the next several weeks and you will not be at work. Your boss cannot ask you to discuss your medical condition. This is confidential information.
What if Your Company Doesn’t Offer FMLA?
We’ve talked about the advantages of using FMLA when it is available. What if it is not? If you want to go to rehab for a problem with addiction, you have a couple of options when it comes to how to tell your boss.
- Be honest. Go directly to your boss and tell him or her, “I need to let you know that I have an addiction to drugs/alcohol. I am tired of living my life like this. I need help and I want to go to rehab, but I don’t want to lose my job. What can we do?”
- Go to your boss and tell him or her that you have a personal matter that requires your immediate attention. You do not have to disclose details. Explain that you want to keep your job, but that you simply must take a few weeks off. Ask your boss for guidance.
- Go to your boss and explain that you have a medical situation that you need to address and that you will need time off. Tell him or her that you do not feel comfortable discussing details, but that you desperately need life-saving medical treatment and ask for support.
Here is something to keep in mind – your boss and coworkers probably already suspect that you may have a problem with alcohol or drugs. As much as you might think you are good at hiding your substance use, you probably aren’t doing as great of a job as you think.
Yes, it is risky to be open and honest about having an addiction problem with your boss. However; they might surprise you and be your number one supporter. You will never know if you don’t try.
Please keep in mind that your life is more important than your job. You may have to give up your position in favor of saving your own life. Be prepared to make this difficult decision.
Remember, Outpatient Addiction Treatment is Always An Option
Most women think they absolutely have to attend a 28-day program or longer at an inpatient rehab. This would require you to miss almost an entire month of work without pay. But, we want you to know that you do have other options. You do not necessarily have to go to inpatient treatment to get well. Depending on the severity of illness, you could participate in an Intensive Outpatient Program (known as “IOP”).
IOP is designed to meet the needs of women who want to get help for a substance abuse disorder but can’t or don’t have to take off work. Our IOP program meets for three hours a day, five times a week. It includes individual counseling sessions and family therapy. The program meets at night to allow women to put in a full work day and then get addiction treatment for just a portion of the day.
Although some cases require a medical detox or inpatient treatment, many women appreciate the flexibility of IOP. They are able to get help for their addiction to alcohol or drugs and learn how to enjoy a sober lifestyle – all while keeping their job.
Learn more about our IOP program at New Directions for Women.
We Are Here to Help You Get Treatment and Keep Your Job
Do you believe you need to get addiction treatment to overcome a dependence on alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription painkillers? If so, we want to encourage you to get the help you need.
Want to take the first brave step in recovery? We can answer any questions you may have about going to rehab and keeping your job. Ready to get help now? We are here.