I Don’t Want To Lose My Job if I Go to Rehab: Stories From Professionals Who Have Been in Your Shoes

The benefits of going to rehab for a substance use disorder are numerous, as are the excuses for not going. Worrying about work is perfectly valid. While an employer may be obligated to provide the time off, there can be negative consequences of leaving for a month or longer. Depending on the job and employer, taking that much time off may not be an option. It’s important to weigh the benefits and risks. For many, going to rehab for addiction is necessary. It may even be life-saving.

Taking a large amount of time off work for any reason can be stressful. You may wonder if you’ll still have your job when you return, if your coworkers will talk while you’re gone, if your projects will suffer, and if your leave of absence will impact your career over the long-term.

The truth is that you have rights to time off for medical reasons and to not be discriminated against for taking charge of your addiction. Another hard truth is that you may not have a choice. Your work is likely suffering from drug or alcohol use. Not only do you need to get better, but getting treatment may ultimately be the best thing for your career.

Why Is Rehab So Important?

Some people with mild or moderate substance use disorders can benefit greatly from outpatient treatment. Therapy sessions and support groups may be enough to help them curb their bad habits and even get and stay sober.

For many people who struggle with drugs and alcohol, a greater focus on recovery is essential. This means going to rehab, a residential facility for more intensive, long-term treatment. There are several reasons, based on evidence, that this type of care is often best and most effective:

  • The best outcomes from treatment result from a longer duration. A minimum of three months of treatment is needed to significantly change behaviors.
  • Treatment plans must be individualized to be effective. Residential facilities are best equipped with staff and treatment options to provide this.
  • These treatment plans must be reevaluated regularly, which again requires extended time in care.
  • Effective addiction treatment addresses all of a person’s needs, which is tough to get in outpatient care.
  • To be effective, treatment must include mental health care. Residential rehab staff includes not just addiction professionals but also mental healthcare workers too.

On a personal level, consider how your work life is going and if rehab could make it better. Are you thriving at work or just hanging on? Could you get more done and be more effective if drugs and alcohol were out of your life? Would your job be more secure if you didn’t have an addiction?

Rehab, Work, and Your Rights

Although it’s clear that going to rehab is beneficial and effective, you may have strong reservations. It’s a big deal to take that much time out of your life. If work is your primary concern, it’s valid. Addiction still carries an unfortunate stigma. Even so, you have legal rights, both to take time for treatment and to have privacy.

The Family Medical Leave Act gives you the right to take up to 12 weeks off for treatment of a serious medical condition. Substance use disorder often meets the requirements for this legal right.

You may also be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The protections of the law extend to someone with a substance use disorder who is receiving treatment or has been rehabilitated.

You also have a reasonable right to privacy at work. The only person you need to inform of the reason for your medical leave is your human resources representative. You may choose to inform your boss or coworkers, but it is not required.

Stories From Professionals Who Have Been in Your Place

If you’re still not convinced that rehab is the right next step to take, consider these stories from people who have been in the same situation:

Learning About My Rights

“I work in IT for a big company, and I was sure I would lose my job if I asked for time off to go to rehab. I had gotten hooked on pain pills after back surgery and tried to hide it for over a year. Ultimately, my job performance started to suffer and I knew I had to do something. I talked to my HR person, and she assured me I had a right to take some time off for a genuine medical need.

She asked me if I wanted to keep this private, and I did. As far as I know, my boss assumed it was issues with my back again. Or, maybe he knew all along, but he treated me fairly. I was able to come back to the same position after two months in rehab. It was one of the best choices I ever made.” –Saul M.

Financial Worries

“My biggest concern in taking time off for addiction treatment was money. My company offers good health insurance, which included rehab, but my family relies on me for my income. I avoided taking the plunge and going to rehab for far too long because of this worry.

What finally convinced me that I would have to do it was nearly getting fired. I dropped the ball with a new client because I showed up to an important meeting hungover and completely unprepared. My boss sat me down for a serious talk and assured me that I needed to either take the medical leave and get treatment or lose my job. I worried about money, but if I didn’t go in for rehab, my family’s financial situation would have been much worse. I kept my job after a month in treatment and picked up where I had left off, but as a much more valued employee.” –Robin E.

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I Just Didn’t Want to Stall My Growing Career

“I worked at a big law firm in the city when I started using stimulants to keep up with the crazy workload and long hours. I needed them just to stay awake to work. I was good at my job, though, and I loved exceling. I kept pushing my limits until I couldn’t anymore.

When I came to the realization that I had become hooked on uppers, I knew treatment would be necessary. I knew my rights too, as a lawyer. But I still put off going to rehab for months because I knew that stepping away from my role would set me back. I was terrified of starting at the bottom again.

The truth is that, although I had the right to get treatment and to not tell anyone why I needed leave, going to rehab did affect my career. Coming back to the firm, I had to start behind where I had been. I couldn’t work as many hours as I had previously. While I regretted this to some extent, I also knew there was no other way to proceed with my career. Eventually I left that toxic firm and now work with a smaller firm that respects its workers more. I couldn’t be happier.” –Joan N.

How to Talk to Your Employer About Rehab

Remember that you don’t have to tell your boss about your need to go to rehab. You do need to talk to your HR rep, but they are obligated to keep your medical information private if you choose. Your rep will help you get all the needed paperwork in order, which may include a letter from your physician stating that you need medical leave.

You may want to consider telling your boss the truth if they are supportive and you trust them. Being honest about the reason for your leave can help your boss, and even coworkers, understand your situation. Take care when making this decision, as some people may not be accepting.

Ultimately, a good employer who values you will understand your need for leave and encourage it. You will be a better employee when at optimal health. Talking to someone you trust, at work or not, is a great way to start thinking about taking time off work for rehab. If you’re able to open up and share, you can work through the obstacles and find a solution to getting the treatment you need.