Can my employer fire me for going to rehab? UK

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Can my employer fire me for going to rehab? UK 

No, your employer has no right to fire anyone for going to rehab. However the law is not clear cut on and leaves room for interpretation, meaning depending on your circumstances, you could lose your job.  

As more people opt to go to rehab, it has led to increased job loss for people in recovery. One of the reasons for this is the stigma that treatment is for addicts.  

This trend of employment discrimination against people in recovery has been seen in society before.

During the 1920s, alcoholics were often fired from jobs because that was the time that many believed that alcoholics would fail due to excessive drinking. [1] 

It is not uncommon for many employers to have failed to understand the distinction between addiction and dependence.

Certain jobs have more dependence on drugs than others. The dependence might be so intense that they cannot work. 

Addiction at the workplace: UK legislation 

In the workplace, many employees have to deal with addiction issues. in fact, alcohol, drugs, and nicotine addiction are prevalent. And this can be very dangerous for them and those they come into contact with.  

Some research done by the British Liver Trust indicated that alcohol abuse rose exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a 500% increase in the calls received at the centre from the onset of the disease (2).

Alcoholic drinking routines changed dramatically during covid - see the full summary here.

And that’s why employers should get prepared to address concerns that may come up from addiction from employees but must maintain utmost confidentiality. 

When employees have addiction issues, it has the ability to impact their work-life. They could have a lack of productivity, a decrease in their focus, a negative attitude, a bad work ethic, and decreased willingness to help out. 

The UK legislation on addiction 

The UK legislation concerning addiction and the workplace sets out several issues and limitations: Addictions and Substance Misuse (Scotland) Act 2018.

The act is limited in that it only pertains to Scotland. Furthermore, it only applies to limited workers such as those in the health care field, children, and people in social care. [3] 

If employers want to establish zero-tolerance policies, the act only allows employers to do so if such policies "are necessary for safeguarding the health and safety of staff or other persons."

This means that managers cannot discipline or dismiss staff for substance misuse off-site and on-site.  

The need for workers to remain sober has been highlighted following legislation that makes it illegal to drink alcohol or be treated for drugs misuse at the workplace.

Company bosses are the contact people legally obliged to take reasonable steps to stop their employees from drinking alcohol.  

The law applies to everything from social events at the office, where staff may be drinking alcohol to get drunk, to shops where staff can drink during their break.

Under the new law, employers will be legally obliged to stop staff from drinking alcohol, including organizing non-alcoholic versions of events and introducing staff policies that gives advice and ban drinking alcohol during breaks.  

Although, it's unfortunate that companies overlook it as an issue until the worker is sacked on the grounds of declining performance.  

The Employment Act 1996 

It prohibits discrimination against employees and prospective employees because of their drinking status.

The employer is also obligated to take all reasonable steps to prevent impairment and the risk of harm to employees and customers' safety and well-being and avoid interference with or disruption of customers and customers' premises.

This starts with a written policy that sets out the employer's alcohol policy. [4] 

Your rights and responsibilities 

Addiction is a strong urge to engage in a certain type of behaviour. This behaviour includes smoking, drinking alcohol, gambling, or even sexual behaviours for some people.

It would help if you thought about how your addiction can affect your work performance.  

What happens when I’m found drinking at work? 

You may be fired, but it depends on your employer. Many people addicted to alcohol or drugs use their work time to consume their substance of abuse, leading to absences.

Some people may think that the responsibility lies with the employer to ensure that their employees are in a rehab for recovery. 

However, in most cases, this will not be the case. The responsibility lies with the employees. If you're struggling with addiction, it is your responsibility to seek professional help and make sure you are healthy enough to work.  

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) insists that employees take full responsibility for themselves and others that their behaviour might impact for their benefit. (5 

It is the family's responsibility also to make sure you are safe and healthy outside of your work environment. It is not the place of the employer to make sure you are drug-free. 

So, it's also important that you be responsible for your behaviour. And family members and employers should all take note of the warning signs and risk factors for addiction.  

Some of these signs may include:  

  •  Insensitive, uncooperative, hostile, rude, abusive  
  • Failing to take responsibility for one's actions 
  • Abandoning work-related responsibilities 
  • Drinking or using drugs in front of others or during working hours 
  • Using the company car and the company credit card for personal use 
  • Displaying signs of intoxication. 

Your employer’s responsibility 

With the passing of legislation and the stigma on addiction decreasing, employers now must face the reality of addiction at the workplace.

It is essential that they now work to support those with addiction, not punish them like denying them a job. 

The legislation is in place to make sure employers advice those addicted to making sure they are as safe as possible and that they are not discriminated against. 

So, they must be informed and work to support the individual and their addiction. They must be given, where possible, support in the form of rehab programmes.  

Employers should make sure you keep in touch with the staff member in question. You can do it by checking every few days with them to see if they are getting any support or are planning on continuing with their addiction. 

Moreover, employers will face the high costs of employee absenteeism if they don’t address it or provide medical advice.

Other precautionary measures should involve alcohol screening at the entrance to find out those with a problem. 

Alcohol, drug and substance abuse and the law 

Some factors can lead to addiction, but many people start on a path to addiction because of the mood-altering effects of alcohol and drugs.

Drug and alcohol change how the brain's neurotransmitters work. It causes our body to release more chemicals that counteract normal functioning. 

Therefore, it is wrong for employers to ignore drug activities and understand the implications of ignoring alcohol and set them to recovery.  

Products that are used for alcohol and drug abuse 

Drugs and substances have been a part of society for a very long time. Ever since the invention of the first drug, man has been using substances to change their state of mind. 

Drugs and alcohol are a huge problem in today's society, especially among the youth. Societal pressures and peer pressure to do drugs are huge forces in today's society.  

As a result, people don't have controlled substances and escape reality, fit in better, experiment, or be their "true self." Often abused substances like alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, etc., are legal when used by adults.

However, the sale of these drugs is regulated by the government. But, there are restrictions on sales to minors. 

The law around online alcohol and drug and substance abuse 

The laws surrounding alcohol, drug, and substance abuse have been changing.

The 2006 Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (DFSCA) has the following advice and requirements for schools: [6] 

  • Restrictions on advertising including direct, indirect, or associative advertising of any alcohol product (including malt beverages) or illegal drug (except for medical or scientific use)   
  • Prohibiting alcohol or drug-related sponsorship of any athletic event    
  • Prohibiting any activities that promote or glorify the consumption of alcohol or drugs 
  • Promoting programs for the prevention and treatment of alcohol or drug abuse  
  • Encouraging good health practices that discourage the consumption of alcohol or drugs 

Legislation and addiction at work 

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 

It states that it's illegal if an employee takes excess alcohol or drugs knowingly at work. Also, the employer has full responsibility to make sure that their employees' health, safety, and welfare are maintained. [7] 

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 

 It indicates that it’s unlawful if there’s substance abuse at the workplace, whether produced or supplied. The law covers non-prescription drugs and illegal drugs. 

Road Traffic and the Transport and Works Act 1992 

It positions that it’s also criminal if road drivers and transport system workers drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol during work time.

In this case, whether the employee or the employer is caught, they all can be prosecuted. [8] 

Counselling and support 

Well, just as the law prohibits employers' ignorance of workplace drug-free zone, they, therefore, need to offer counselling and support like residential rehab. Remember, quitting drug addiction isn't easy for anyone.

So good employers should help the employees find special support through their local inpatient treatment service. They should also talk and advice the staff members to offer the same care for the benefit of life. 


Drug and alcohol use at work 

It’s hard to believe that one of the most alarming problems in the workplace today is drug and alcohol use at work.

Drugs only make you feel stress-free shortly because, according to Drinkaware, 14 units weekly are enough to make you feel stressed [9].  

Besides, drugs and alcohol take a toll on our health, happiness, and productivity. They can negatively affect our decision making which can ultimately lead to accidents.

They also impact the way we behave and how we interact with colleagues, resulting in misunderstandings and problems with fellow employees. 

However, you as an employee have similar rights as one struggling with medical or psychological disorders. And a responsible employer has to present total privacy and time off for therapy and treatment. 

It’s very costly for a line manager to sack and train new individuals rather than helping your end your problem. Your substance abuse diagnosis is similar to any other sickness and must be treated right by your employer. 

Can I be fired for having an alcohol addiction? 

While the answer may not be clear-cut, it is usually not lawful to fire an employee because of drugs misuse.

And since there are laws to protect your job as you seek treatment, you shouldn’t be worried about getting fired for having an alcohol addiction.  

Furthermore, deciding to go for treatment saves your life. Don’t do yourself a big disservice for refusing to seek treatment, yet, the treatment takes time. Also, you'll save on the cost when you get treated than remaining addicted.   

The employment protection law also advices employers to handle addiction as sickness and not a direct cause of disciplinary action like sacking.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, because alcoholism is classified as a disability, it is not legal for an employer to discriminate against an employee who is disabled because of their alcoholism [10]. 

That being said, addiction should not be confused with the act of drinking while off duty.

The line can be difficult to distinguish, but it is usually lawful for an employer to understand addiction, take disciplinary action and fire an employee who brings alcohol to work and consumes it during their off-hours.  

Medical or psychological condition and addiction 

Addiction is often compounded by untreated mental illness or psychological conditions. And the presence of co-occurring substance use and psychological or mental health conditions is called dual diagnosis 

Imagine 5.5% of the global population using illicit drugs. Also, about 35 million individuals suffered drug use disorders in 2018.

There's even an alarming rate of drug-induced deaths, almost 76 deaths in every a million people (11).  

On the other hand, about 20.2 million people suffer from substance use disorder in the US, yet only approximately 3 million are the ones getting treated for this co-occurring disorder (12). 

It is quite common for people with medical or mental issues to turn to substances to self treatment occasionally. Those with addiction problems are more likely to turn to drugs when experiencing emotional or mental turmoil.

It becomes a cycle with the individual often abusing drugs to continue to function in day-to-day life. These patterns give rise to the notion of addiction being a disease. 

 Treatment costs are often expensive, but they are even more expensive when the individual hurts their body to get their fix.

There are plenty of resources for this type of struggle, but the individual must be ready to admit and seek residential treatment in a rehab. 

 Addiction, dependency, and inherited tendencies 

There’s a lot of stigma around addiction and mental health conditions, even more so because of how we have been conditioned to feel about people who have them.

Many people have a family history of being addicted and other illness like mental health conditions, and it isn't their fault.  

What makes people susceptible to these conditions is something called "epigenetics" - essentially, the environment they grow up in impacts their biology, health and safety.

And because of this, they are more likely to develop these conditions than the average person. It is why they are sometimes referred to as "inherited tendencies."  

Difference between dependency and addiction. 

It is important to understand the difference between dependency and addiction. Dependence is a medically determined condition that develops when a person uses a substance for a prolonged period.

It’s a predictable and medically treatable condition. The main difference between dependence and addiction is that being addicted has a 40 to 60% relapse rate, whereas dependence does not. [13] 


Abusing alcohol is something that many people suffer from. Unfortunately, it can be very hard for people to break free of this addiction, and sometimes it is not easy to admit that this is something they are struggling with.  

One thing that any addict needs to be very careful of is the potential to lose their job for poor performance and the jeopardy of their health and safety.

It can lead to missing deadlines, health issues, submitting poor quality work, continually being late to work, it needs a lot of cost, confidentiality, and not completing projects on time.  

But it's never too late to get your addiction treatment. Talk to your employer and identify the best treatment options like therapy and attend rehab that'll suit you.

You can always get confidential help in a rehab for the best recovery. It is better to be aware and safe than sorry! 

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

About the author

Laura Morris

Laura Morris is an experienced clinical practitioner and CQC Registered Manager with over twenty years experience, over ten of which have been as an Independent Nurse Prescriber.

She has held a number of senior leadership roles in the substance use and mental health sector in the NHS, the prison service and in leading social enterprises in the field.

Last Updated: April 9, 2024