Going away for treatment, be it for substance use or mental health, still carries a certain stigma. While mental health professionals and those in recovery work to help change the stigma surrounding seeking this kind of treatment, anonymity remains incredibly important. There are also certain professions where the stigma may remain regardless, so there will always be a space for those to be able to keep what is a personal, separate from the professional areas of life. What happens when those who wish to preserve their anonymity when they return to their lives after treatment? Having a plan for how best to field these questions is essential to help navigate tough conversations with grace.
The personal decisions about what or what not to tell co-workers are entirely personal, but one way to make sure that the decision isn’t swayed by fears about keeping your job is to understand and know your rights. Treatment is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as long as the company has over 15 employees. Fear of losing a job should not be a reason someone hesitates to seek treatment, these acts not only create safety for those who need to seek assistance for substance use but also protect this information from creating issues after returning to the workplace. If the company has a human resources department this information should be confidentially shared. This is by no means a comprehensive look at the laws but resources are available that can help educate those who have been through treatment as to the specifics of their rights when rejoining their workplace.
For some, management may have been aware of the substance use issues prior to entering treatment, especially if there was evidence of impairment while on the job. If this is the case, some employers require a Return-To-Work Agreement when treatment is completed. These can include items like abstaining entirely from all substances not prescribed by a doctor, periodic drug tests, and monitoring of compliance with terms by the employer. These are reasonable requests a company may make in order to protect themselves legally and should be complied with. Human resources or a manager should handle these with care and privacy to create a situation that works for both employer and employee.
Keep it Personal
If any concerns over legal issues and keeping a job have been put to rest, one can look forward and anticipate how they might answer questions from those around them borne out of concern or curiosity. It’s so important to make and keep these decisions personal, as no two situations are the same and ultimately feeling safe in the workplace is important for anyone balancing a life of recovery with their other responsibilities. There are some things to consider when it comes to the exchange of information about treatment.
- No explanation is owed to any co-worker – In a general way, it is important to remember that an explanation isn’t owed. While that comes with an additional set of considerations as this typically isn’t the answer one wishes to give out, it is an important thing to bear in mind when people approach in regards to an absence. Perhaps in your substance use, you wrong a specific co-worker but even if you are practicing the amends portion of a 12-Step recovery program, language can be softened as to not directly link back to treatment.
- What am I willing to tell others, even those I consider friends? Consider how much information can or should be exchanged and with whom. Perhaps there are co-workers that you have more personal relationships with, however the more that is shared with any given co-worker, the more the possibility of that information being shared with others increases. How much to share and with whom should be carefully thought through and the advice of a support group can help assist when there is uncertainty.
- Am I prepared to deal with this information being shared with others? If the decision is made to share certain information with certain co-workers, it should be considered what the potential consequences might be. Bear in mind how you would be affected if your personal information made it further than the few you trusted it with. If you believe it would be difficult to navigate emotionally or professionally it should be avoided.
- What is a good straight forward simple explanation? Whether it’s that a health condition required care or a loved one needed assistance, there are many short simple answers to give those at work. An important tip is to be a broken record. Set a boundary and keep it, choose a simple reply to any prying questions and confidently deliver it as often and repeatedly as possible. Be kind and understanding of the fact that others are curious, but maintain personal boundaries as a number one priority.
Comfort and composure are the most important things to maintain in the workplace going forward after treatment. Remember that personal boundaries should supersede pleasing others when it comes to the information exchange. Compassion about curiosity and firm answers can help navigate through coming back after an absence.
Ashley Addiction Treatment believes that connection is the key to recovery, with treatment options focused on holistic, integrated, and uplifting care. Ashley offers alumni programs that can help you navigate the challenging task or re-entering life after treatment. If you would like to speak to someone about our care options, please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.