The Rights of Employees When Seeking Addiction Treatment

For individuals battling a drug or alcohol addiction, the consequences that occur in the workplace can create a downward spiral of negative events. On one hand, the individual may not want to leave work to address their addiction for fear that they will lose their job. On the other hand, performance is not up to par because the person is dealing with an addiction, coming into work late and allowing their work to suffer. What’s important is that individuals know and understand their rights in the workplace when it comes to dealing with drug addiction.

Case Study Example

Let’s take a look at the case of Sarah, an accountant with a prestigious office in Los Angeles. Sarah moved out to California in her early 20s to pursue her career and ended up loving the glamour of city life. Unfortunately, her late nights at clubs also spiraled her into a world of drinking and drugs, and it didn’t take long for her to start using regularly, beyond her nights out with friends.

At the same time, Sarah was applying for jobs and landed her dream position with a company in L.A. She knew that with a steady job, drinking and drugs would be put behind her. But it didn’t pan out that way. Instead, it turned out that the more money Sarah had, the easier it was for her to get the drugs she craved. She quickly began battling addiction while easing her way into a new position, making it harder to balance her world.

Sarah is well-liked at her job; her performance is beyond her years and her personality is striking. She is blossoming in her field, but her coworkers can’t help but notice that Sarah has been coming into work late, is tired and irritable and is letting her performance fail. Sarah is embarrassed that things have gotten so out of control, but she doesn’t want her job to know the deeper issue for fear that they will fire her. So, she ignores her problem and is eventually given several warnings about her late arrivals and lack of performance. Eventually, Sarah is fired from her position.

Now, there are many things that Sarah could have done differently, but you can understand just how difficult it would be to admit to coworkers that you have a drug problem. For many people in the workplace, they simply take the route of sweeping their problem under the rug for fear of shame and embarrassment. However, these individuals have more rights than they know of, and coming clean is far more beneficial than hiding the issue.

Americans with Disabilities Act

First, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against those with a mental or physical disability. Title I of this act protects recovered or recovering addicts who cannot be legally discriminated on the job. In short, anyone who has gone through treatment cannot be discriminated against, and those who are entering treatment cannot be retaliated against. This is something that all employees should be aware of, as employers are not allowed to hold a position from an employee who has or is battling drug addiction.

Now, if an employee has a drug or alcohol problem and lets these issues affect their performance as in the case of Sarah, these actions are grounds for termination. Therefore, employers cannot discriminate based on status, but they can terminate an employee based on their conduct. In Sarah’s position, she should have come clean about her issues and took time to seek treatment, protecting her job, her health, her safety and her future with the company. Instead, her late arrivals and lack of performance cost her the job.

Family and Medical Leave Act

In addition to the ADA, there is also the Family and Medical Leave Act that allows employees to take time off for 12 weeks, either paid or unpaid. The only stipulation is that there is a legitimate health reason for taking this time off, and rehabilitation is considered a legitimate reason. The FMLA protects employees by giving them 12 weeks off during the calendar year and holding a position for them in the company.

The bottom line is this: Employees cannot lose their job if they seek treatment for alcohol or drugs. In fact, they have an opportunity to receive the care they need without being penalized, a far different outcome than what can happen if treatment is not sought. Therefore, employees should never be afraid to seek the treatment they deserve, and they should feel confident about seeking new opportunities in the future without being held back from previous drug addiction.

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