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Should I Disclose My Full History to My Employer?

As you transition back into the workforce, you may find yourself encountering situations that force you to decide just how much to disclose about your history of addiction and recovery. Whether or not you open up to your coworkers is your decision. More significant can be how much you choose to share with your employer. You may be concerned about whether your boss will treat you differently, take negative actions against you, or even fire you if they learn about your struggle with substance abuse. It’s important to know how you’re legally protected from discrimination and termination because of your history.

Know Your Rights to Privacy

If you took time off for treatment, your employer will likely ask you about where you were. Even a well-meaning question can make you feel pressured and imperiled. Don’t let it get to you–your privacy is your own and you aren’t legally required to reveal the details of your time off to anybody. If asked, you’re perfectly entitled to say “I was taking care of a personal issue” or “I was getting help with a medical problem.” Anything more than that is nobody’s business but your own.

If you want to ask for minor changes to your schedule or responsibilities at work, but you’re afraid of repercussions, don’t be; you’re entitled to reasonable accommodation under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). This could look like a schedule that allows you to keep up your therapy or 12-Step meetings, shifts which don’t place you in direct contact with alcohol, or a change in your responsibilities that aligns with your new goals. Your employer is entitled to ask for a letter that verifies your condition. This doesn’t mean you have to reveal every detail; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommends speaking with your healthcare provider to ensure they understand the importance of confidentiality.

Your Treatment Is Protected

If you take time off work to voluntarily seek treatment for substance abuse or addiction, you’re protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA lets you take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work for medical reasons, including substance abuse disorders. If you and your employer meet its criteria, you can’t be fired simply for going to rehab or detox. You do not have to disclose your medical condition or the nature of the treatment you’re seeking, although your employer may ask for a letter from your healthcare provider to verify that you’re getting help for a genuine issue.

Even if your employer discovers that you have or will enter treatment for substance abuse or addiction, you’re legally protected from being fired. As long as your past addiction is not currently affecting your workplace performance, the ADA prevents your employer from terminating you based on your past substance abuse, your current struggle with addiction, or your plans to get help for it.

Disclosing Your History During the Hiring Process

For some people, recovery comes with a change in career. When applying to new jobs, you may feel pressure to explain gaps in your work history left by treatment. The ADA protects you from having to reveal certain details about any mental illness or medical disability, including substance abuse or addiction, in the following ways:

  • During the initial stages of application or interview, an employer may not ask questions regarding current or past disabilities or your medical record, even if they pertain to the job. You can’t be asked if you ever were addicted to or received treatment for a specific substance or substances in general.
  • If you are being considered for a job, your employer may ask you about gaps in your work history. You’re entitled to explain the gaps you took for treatment as time spent recovering from a medical condition.
  • It’s not legal for an employer to ask you specific inquiries about the nature of your disability once you’ve provided a satisfactory explanation. If they do, however, you should answer honestly–lying about a past addiction is a legitimate red flag for an employer. In the unlikely event that this happens, you can file a complaint with the ADA.
  • If you are offered a job, your employer is allowed to ask you questions about medical conditions or disabilities as they pertain to the job. Questions about your past addiction or treatment are often not relevant here, as long as you know your performance won’t be affected, so you do not have to reveal these details.

 

Once you’re done with acute treatment, one of the first things you may do is go back to work. Returning to employment after getting treatment for addiction can be a nerve-wracking experience. You may find yourself carefully protecting your privacy so as not to raise suspicion, discrimination, or mistreatment from your employer or coworkers. Know that your rights are protected when it comes to guarding your personal medical privacy. Being armed with the right information and resources will make a significant impact in how you navigate this next chapter of your post-treatment recovery. The journey back to the rest of your life can be challenging and you don’t have to go it alone. RECO Intensive offers individualized treatment and support for every step of your recovery, from detox to life counseling for the road ahead. If you have questions about transitioning back into the workforce, reach out today to receive guidance from our knowledgeable staff and connect to career counseling resources. Call (561) 464-6533 to learn more.

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