One of the most impenetrable barriers to getting help for a substance use disorder is the fear of potential consequences for taking that action. Concerns about losing a job, or other far-reaching consequences to career or reputation, as a consequence of seeking treatment, are common and understandable. The stubborn stigma surrounding addiction and mental health is unfortunate, as it can deter individuals who truly need help from ever seeking it. However, awareness of the laws and protections in place that safeguard one’s career and privacy can provide critical information to help someone overcome this obstacle and obtain treatment.
Your Job is Protected Under the Law
Too many people who need treatment never take that first step, often due to the mistaken belief that their job would be placed in jeopardy. This is a shame, because there are, in fact, federal laws in existence for this very reason—to remove a barrier to treatment by offering protection of one’s livelihood. These laws include:
- The American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA mental health and substance use disorders are listed as protected, meaning an employer cannot terminate an employee if they are in need of obtaining related treatment services.
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA makes provisions for qualified employees to obtain an extended leave of absence up to 12 weeks, whether paid or unpaid. The FMLA ensures that an employee seeking treatment for a substance use disorder can do so and are guaranteed to return to the job, or an equivalent position, following a leave of up to 12 weeks.
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA provides privacy and confidentiality of a patient’s individual medical records and other personal health information from being disclosed without permission.
Regarding concerns about damage to one’s reputation, human resources departments are trained to maintain discretion regarding the specific reason for an employee taking an extended medical leave. This is a very common issue that H.R. is well versed at managing while also protecting an employee’s right to privacy.
While it is understandable to possibly feel nervous about people at work discovering the reason for the leave of absence, it may actually come as no surprise to coworkers if they somehow did learn of it. There may have been signs that the individual was struggling with a challenge, due to excessive absences, declining work performance, or the physicals signs of a substance use disorder. Most coworkers would be happy that their valued colleague is seeking professional help for the problem, and will be glad to see them take care of their health and wellbeing.
Preparing for Treatment
Prior to entering inpatient treatment for a substance use disorder, it is helpful to make careful preparations so the process will go as smoothly as possible. These efforts will also alleviate much stress for the individual, and their family members and coworkers.
- Get a medical leave. Do not enter residential treatment impulsively. Before beginning a treatment program, it is important to first secure an extended medical leave from one’s employer. This will provide the job protections needed, versus risking termination by not showing up to work as expected.
- Meet with the boss. Sitting down with the direct superior can go a long way toward establishing good will. Instead of an abrupt departure that may leave the department in the lurch, discuss the leave of absence with the boss so they can make accommodations during the absence. It is not necessary to explain the reason for the extended leave.
- Check your insurance. Every health plan is different, which is why it is important to contact the insurance company and have a clear picture of coverage limits, copays, and out of pocket expenses prior to entering the treatment center.
- Plan finances. It is helpful to get the bills paid for the upcoming month prior to entering treatment, as well as to make financial provisions for family members in one’s absence.
- Childcare arrangements. If there are young children, make plans in advance for ensuring the children have supervision before and after school, arrange transportation to and from school, sports functions, or extracurricular lessons.
- Make contact information available. Since cell phone use is often prohibited during at least the first month of treatment, it is important that a spouse or trusted family member has the contact information for the inpatient treatment center so they can reach their loved one in the event of an emergency.
- Encourage family involvement. A substance use disorder impacts marriages and the family unit, often damaging these significant relationships. Prior to entering treatment, encourage these significant others to participate in the family-focused counseling sessions or couples sessions that are usually offered at treatment centers.
Everyone deserves an opportunity to redirect his or her life for the better. When in need of professional treatment for a substance issue, have confidence that one’s job is protected through federal laws, and confidentiality is maintained through HIPAA. After careful preparations have been made, shift the focus toward the primary goal—recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is a luxury residential treatment center for individuals desiring freedom from a substance use disorder. For more information about our program, please reach out to the team today at (866) 313-6307.