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What to Tell Your Boss if You Need to Go to Rehab

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Overcoming the Fear of Losing Your Job to Get Addiction Treatment

What to Tell Your Boss if You need to Go to Rehab

The fear of job loss is a major deterrent for women who struggle with addiction and do not seek help. Breaking the news to your employer that you struggle with a substance abuse disorder can be a daunting prospect. If they admit they need to attend treatment, the majority of working women immediately fear they will lose their jobs. This is simply not true.

Addiction can be a life-threatening situation, and addiction affects women in profound ways. However, we recognize that you need a job to pay the bills.

Let’s discuss how to tell your employer you are going to rehab AND keep your job.

You Don’t 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 your company meets certain requirements.

This means that people who abuse drugs can take up to 12 weeks off without pay to go to rehab if they need to. Everything goes through HR. All you have to do is let your boss know that you are taking FMLA. You don’t need to explain.

Let’s talk more about this.

What You Should Know About FMLA and Addiction Treatment

What to Tell Your Boss if You need to Go to Rehab

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 benefit from FMLA, you will need a written reference from a doctor or addiction expert. It’s not enough to learn how to tell your employer you are going to rehab. Talk to HR about the forms that need to be filled out. They will help you figure out how to get the papers you need.

Once you are approved for FMLA, your HR department will notify your boss. Then, 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’s not?

You have a couple of options when it comes to how to tell your employer you are going to rehab.

  1. 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?”
  2. 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.
  3. 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’s something to keep in mind – your boss and coworkers probably already suspect that you might have a problem with drugs or alcohol. You may think you’re hiding the fact that you use drugs, but you probably aren’t.

Yes, telling your boss that you have a problem with addiction is risky. But they could surprise you and be your number-one supporter. You will never know if you don’t try.

Don’t forget that your life is more important than your job. To save your own life, you might have to quit your job. You should be ready to make this tough choice.

How to Tell Your Employer You Are Going to Rehab

If you decide you need to tell your boss that you’re going to rehab, here are some tips on how to do it in a professional and sensitive way:

Plan Your Conversation: Plan what you’re going to say before you talk to your boss or an HR person. You should write down the main points you want to make. This can help you stay on track and get your point across easily.

Choose the Right Time and Place: You should set up a time to meet privately with your HR person or your direct boss when you won’t be bothered or rushed. For such a private conversation, it’s important to be in a private place.

Be Honest and Direct: Honesty is important. You can start by saying something like, “I’m facing a health challenge that requires professional treatment, and I’ve decided to seek help through a rehabilitation program.” You don’t need to go into details about your addiction unless you feel comfortable doing so.

Emphasize Your Commitment to Recovery and Your Job: Make it clear that your goal is to get better and be a more productive member of the team. Reassure your boss that you are dedicated to your work and explain how taking this step will ultimately improve your overall performance.

Discuss the Practicalities: Let them know how long you plan to be away and if you have any freedom with the dates. Talk about how your duties could be handled while you’re not there, and discuss some temporary delegation arrangements that might work.

Know Your Rights: Learn about your legal rights and any company policies that apply to medical leave and treatment for drug abuse. This information can give you more confidence as you talk about your break and may protect you from discrimination.

Request Support: Ask for their support during your treatment and recovery process. This could involve how they might change your workload before and after rehab or about any ways they can help, like giving you flexible hours when you get back to work.

Prepare for Any Response: Be prepared for different reactions and have responses ready. Thank your employer for their understanding if they are supportive. Remind them of your legal rights and the rewards that both of you stand to gain from your rehabilitation if they respond negatively.

Follow Up in Writing: After your meeting, follow up with an email summarizing the key points discussed and any agreements made. This will provide a record of your conversation and clarify any next steps.

Remember, Outpatient Addiction Treatment is Always An Option

Most women think that inpatient treatment programs must last at least 28 days. Because of this, you would have to skip nearly a whole month of work without compensation. However, we want you to know that you do have other options. 

Going to an inpatient facility is not always necessary for your recovery. You may be eligible to participate in an Intensive Outpatient Program (or “IOP”) if your condition is serious enough.

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 you to put in a full workday 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. Getting sober and learning to live a sober life is possible, and they can do it all while keeping their job.

Learn more about our IOP program at New Directions for Women.

Resuming Your Professional Life After Rehab

Going back to work after rehab can be a tough but worthwhile part of your recovery. Before you go back to work, you should talk to HR or your boss about any changes that need to be made to your workload. This open conversation can help you understand what is expected of you and fit back into the work setting more easily.

Set up a structured daily routine that supports your ongoing recovery efforts, such as continued treatment or counseling, and try to reestablish stability in your workday. Use the help that’s offered at work, like employee assistance programs, and think about joining a peer support group.

Remember that you decide how much information you want to share about your care; it’s important that you protect your privacy. By taking these steps, you can confidently handle the challenges of going back to work and keep moving forward on your road to healing.

We Are Here to Help You Get Treatment and Keep Your Job

New Directions for Women facilities

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 how to tell your boss you’re going to rehab. Ready to get help now.

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