Detox Local

Can I Be Fired for Going to Detox?

Medically Reviewed By: Benjamin Caleb Williams RN, BA, CEN

Written By: Gary Bowers

Article Updated: 09/14/2020

Number of References: 6 Sources

For the people in America who are struggling with their addiction and desperately wanting help, the idea of leaving work for drug detox can seem like a double-edged sword. Thankfully there are laws put in place that can help someone pursue treatment for their addiction while offering certain job protections. Regardless of whether you have insurance or not, these options can help anyone in need. Below are some details that can help you chart your path. If you have questions, you can always reach out to a specialist at a detox facility who can help you review your options.

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An Intimidating Question

DISCLAIMER: This article is for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Speak with an attorney before taking any action.

Treat my addiction or keep my job? Millions of Americans find themselves in this dilemma every year. The majority of people who identify as having a substance use disorder are employed, a statistic that defies the bigoted and inconsiderate stereotype that many people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction are homeless vagrants or unemployed slackers who lack motivation. This view is unfortunately held by some people who have little understanding of the complexities or science behind the disease of addiction. Substance use disorder affects people in every segment of America; it crosses racial, socio-economic, age, gender, and education lines.

Learning about the laws, your personal benefits, and discussing your addiction with your employer may seem daunting, but treatment should always come first wherever possible. We all benefit from a society free from drug addiction, and the time spent in medical detox may actually be an investment when you factor in lost productivity due to addiction and related issues.

How to Disclose Your Addiction to Your Employer

It’s imperative to understand that while protections do exist, if your employer is the ‘moving party’ in discussing work-related issues concerning your addiction or substance use disorder, the laws almost always side with the employer. If you are suffering from an addiction or substance use disorder, you will need to discuss this with your employer – before they discuss it with you. If your addiction has affected your performance on the job in any way, or if your employer is the moving party on any drug-related inquiries (like a drug test), you may not be protected.

Talking to your employer about your addiction can be humbling and embarrassing, but you are not the first person to deal with addiction and work, and you will not be the last. Unfortunately, stigma does exist, but in many cases, an open and honest discussion with your employer will go a long way towards a successful resolution of your needs at work that will allow you to focus on recovery.

Now that you’re ready to tackle the tough conversation, it’s important to equip yourself with the facts. If you are insured, look over your Explanation of Benefits (EOB), which includes benefits related to detox treatment. You can also speak with someone in your Human Resources department who can handle your inquiry while maintaining confidentiality.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA was established in 1990 to protect workers from discrimination based on disability. Establishing the ADA was considered a major shift in employment practices in the United States and processes including hiring, firing, discipline, and reasonable workplace accommodations have evolved since that time, as has the interpretation of the law.

NOTE: The following information is not intended to be a complete and final interpretation of the law.

So how does the ADA protect you? First, it’s important to note that the ADA does NOT protect anyone who is considered “currently engaging” in illicit drug use. “Qualified Individuals” under the ADA are considered:

  • Those who have been successfully rehabilitated and are no longer engaging in the use of illegal drugs
  • Those who are currently participating and are no longer engaging in the use of illegal drugs
  • Those who are regarded, erroneously, as illegally using drugs

Further, the law says an employer cannot discriminate against a person with a history of drug use provided they are not currently engaging in drug use and are rehabilitated. The law clearly supports those who are actively involved in recovery and treatment. The ADA does NOT protect you in the following situations:

  • If you are currently using illegal drugs, and your employer acts on the basis of such use
  • If you fail a drug test
  • If you fail to meet basic job requirements or meet the same standards set for other employees

In summary: The ADA will offer job protection and reasonable accommodations (including a modified working schedule) for those who meet the criteria of a “qualified individual”. Those struggling with an addiction to alcohol are similarly protected under the ADA.

At the end of the day, if YOU take action and seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, your chances remain high that you will receive certain job protections under the ADA. Don’t wait for your employer to make the move; if you are open, honest, and actively engaged in your recovery you have a much better chance at favorable outcomes.

To reiterate, this article is NOT a comprehensive overview of current law related to addiction, and it is recommended for someone to seek a lawyer or some form of legal counsel before taking any action based on the contents of this article. While we have tried to make this information as current as possible, laws are constantly changing as does the understanding of addiction and other mental illnesses, so some of the information contained herein may be outdated.

Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act (MHPAEA) and the Affordable Care Act

The Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) was originally enacted in 1996 and was subsequently amended in 2008, improving upon the original law to include addiction equity provisions. The Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act (MHPAEA) states that mental health and addictions must be covered at the same level as physical conditions such as diabetes.

While this law ensures “parity” and “equity” in coverage, it doesn’t ensure “quality” coverage. Whatever restrictions or limits are placed on other benefits will be applied to mental health and addiction benefits including limitations on access, number of visits, copays, etc. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) furthered the MHPAEA by requiring parity in individual health insurance coverage and added mental health and substance use disorder as one of the 10 essential health benefits.

Family and Medical Leave of Absence Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave of Absence Act (FMLA) enables employees to achieve work/life balance by allowing up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. To be eligible for FMLA benefits, you must:

  • Be employed with your company for at least 12 months, and
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and
  • Work at a location where the company employs 50 or more people within 75 miles

For the sake of this article, FMLA time would be taken any time an employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition or needs to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, parent) with a serious health condition. Processes may vary by employer, and documentation from professional healthcare workers will also be necessary to be approved for FMLA. Talk with your healthcare provider and Human Resources team if you have specific questions about your eligibility for this benefit.

Your Career After Detox

Returning to work after detox will be an important moment in recovery; it’s a chance to reclaim a positive place in society and an opportunity to move forward. Remember your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your history of addiction or substance use disorder. However it’s not uncommon for employers to ask for drug tests or other measures as part of your return to work agreement, and they can lawfully do so. The necessity, or implementation, of a return to work agreement will lie between your healthcare provider and your employer. Once you’ve returned to work, those elements that continue to protect your job status are largely up to you, and your active commitment to sobriety and recovery.

Finding Medically Assisted Detox

Hopefully, you’ve learned that in many cases your job is protected, and you can safely pursue treatment for your addiction. Once you’re ready to take the next step in recovery, start by talking to your healthcare provider, and your employer’s Human Resources team who can help you navigate your treatment options and your eligible benefits.

Typically a medically assisted detox program will last 5-7 days – or until the drugs have been safely removed from your body. Medical and mental health therapy will be available during this time, as will exposure to additional resources for a successful recovery. There are both inpatient detox and outpatient detox centers. Outpatient programs are generally most popular among working professionals, but the risk of relapse can be too much for those with moderate to severe addictions.

Since employers, policies, addictions, benefits, and situations can vary, there isn’t a clearly defined process for everyone. The most important things are to be open and honest, seek help and guidance from your healthcare provider and your employer’s Human Resources team, and put your health and recovery first!

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