How Addiction Affects Your Career and Ways to Get Help
Alcohol and drug addiction affects every aspect of your life, including your health, your quality of life and your relationship with your family and friends. One of the most immediate and important aspects of life that addiction affects is your career and your financial security. As your alcohol or drug abuse worsens, it’s usually only a matter of time before you start slipping in your performance at work, showing up late (or not at all), and very often, putting your colleagues at risk by showing up impaired. You may think you have the problem under control and that you can live a life as a “high-functioning” addict, but without help, you’re placing job in jeopardy more and more every day.
When asking yourself if you can be fired for your addiction, it’s important to draw a distinction between addiction and active substance use. Recovery is a lifelong endeavor, which means that, on some level, you will always be managing your alcohol or drug addiction even if you don’t actively use. While you can’t be explicitly fired for your addiction, you can be terminated for on-the-job substance abuse or if your substance use offsite interferes with the performance of your duties or puts your coworkers or customers at risk. Alcoholism and drug addiction are recognized medical conditions protected by The Americans with Disabilities Act, which means that the condition itself is not grounds for termination.
Further, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) manual states that Persons addicted to drugs, but who are no longer using drugs illegally and are receiving treatment for drug addiction or who have been rehabilitated successfully, are protected by the ADA from discrimination on the basis of past drug addiction. However, if you or your loved one tests positive for illicit substances, you are no longer subject to ADA protections.
Believe it or not, there is no requirement for most private employers to have a drug-free workplace policy of any kind. The exceptions to this are federal contractors and grantees, as well as safety- and security-sensitive industries and positions, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which means that testing, enforcement and assistance policies will vary according to each organization’s guidelines and, in many cases, the state in which they operate. Some states like Florida allow random testing, while Texas leaves it up to the discretion of employers, as long as they don’t violate any other of the employee’s legal protections. California is stricter and only allows “suspicionless” drug testing as an initial condition of employment after being hired but before starting the position.
If an employer has reasonable suspicion of a substance use issue, however they may proceed with testing. Exact grounds for reasonable-suspicion testing vary according to each company’s policy, but often include:
- Physical Indicators – Bloodshot or sunken eyes, slurred speech, obvious disorientation and lethargy, sleeping at work, unusual body or breath odor, tremors and shaking, etc.
- Behavioral Indicators – Chronic absenteeism and lateness without valid explanation, noticeable and sudden decline in performance and productivity, bizarre changes in mood and disposition, borrowing or stealing money from co-workers or company cash reserves.
One of the most common causes of drug testing is for investigatory purposes immediately following an accident when an employee is believed to be under the influence and subsequently impaired.
The process of telling your employer you need help for addiction is delicate, but you shouldn’t be afraid to get the help you need for your problem. Here are some things to consider before telling your boss, supervisor or HR department that you need help:
- You can’t be fired for going to rehab under the ADA, but you CAN get fired if you continue to conceal your problem and something happens at work because of it.
- The cat is probably already out of the bag. Your boss and colleagues may already know that you’re dealing with personal issues and will respect and appreciate you for taking it upon yourself to ask for help.
- Employers must make reasonable accommodations to those who voluntarily enter substance use treatment. While this doesn’t mean the employer is obligated to pay for care, it does mean allowing a modified work schedule so the employee could attend recovery meetings, or a leave of absence so the employee could seek treatment.
- The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take 12 unpaid weeks off from work while protecting your job.
- Your employer is legally obligated to keep all information about your substance use and need for treatment confidential and protected.
The most important thing to remember when talking to your employer about your addiction or substance use issue is that you need to get help, no matter what. By being proactive and taking the safe, respectful and dignified route to treatment, you’re signaling to your employer and your colleagues that you’re committed to getting help and coming back to the job you love.
Once you’ve finished talking to your employer about going to rehab, it’s time to start your treatment and recovery. If you haven’t already, you should start researching facilities that you think can help your specific substance use issue, whether you need detox for prolonged cocaine or heroin withdrawal, inpatient or outpatient rehab for prescription painkillers, or anything else. You should have a loved one help you find a treatment provider that best suits your clinical and lifestyle needs. It’s also a good idea to find out what treatment facilities accept your insurance and how much of your treatment will be covered under your plan.
Recovery Unplugged is in-network with most major insurance providers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Aetna, Mines and Associates and many others, to make treatment more affordable and accessible to you or the person you care about who is struggling with addiction. We also offer an employee-assistance program (EAP) resource to help organizations affected by workplace substance abuse guide affected employees toward treatment.
When addiction is affecting your career, it can feel like a Catch-22 in many ways: on one hand, you don’t want to tell anyone or make it public because you’re afraid of losing your job; on the other, without proper help, things will only get worse, and you’ll likely end up losing it anyway. It’s also natural to have concerns over paying for treatment, particularly when you may be out of work for however long your program takes. It’s important to remember that, without proper treatment, your job will only be one thing that you lose. Allow yourself to take the time you need to bring back the employee and person you were before addiction took over. Recovery Unplugged is waiting to help. Call us now.
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