Can you work while in rehab?

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Can you work while in rehab? 

Typically, it is possible to work while in rehab. If you seek addiction treatment early when your addiction is mild or moderate, you may be able to work while getting substance abuse treatment.

Unfortunately, most people only seek addiction treatment when it's too late. 

Government report shows that a growing number of adults are seeking treatment for substance abuse. The highest proportion of those seeking treatment is opiate users (52%).  

There was also a 2% increase in other substance abuse cases not involving opioids, i.e., alcohol. The report also shows that there's an increase in the prevalence of illegal drugs.

A growing number of adults are in drug rehab for crack cocaine problems. From 2018 to 2019, 11% of adults sought treatment for psychoactive substances [1].  

The increase in the prevalence of illegal drug use shows that drug and alcohol addiction are significant issues that affect society and the workplace. 

The CIPD carried out a survey that involved 6000 employees. In the survey, 2% of employees admitted struggling with drug dependence in the past 12 months [2]. More men (3%) than women (1%) reported struggling with drug or alcohol addiction.  

Moreover, 59% of the adults in the survey who admitted to issues with drug or alcohol use said that their job was a contributing factor [2]. 

Most employers have policies that promote a drug-free workplace. However, the CIPD reports that although many employers have policy rules about drug and alcohol use, few of them have a system in place that encourages employees to disclose their drug and alcohol abuse [3]. 

Luckily, employees can seek treatment and still keep their jobs. Several laws protect people who need drug and alcohol rehab.

These laws include The Addiction and Equality Act of 2010 that protects you from discrimination, harassment, or victimization.  

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also points out that your employer is required to protect your health, safety, and welfare. 

Similarly, the HSE states that employees are required to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be harmed by what they do [4]. 

Each employer has a duty of care that they are required to provide to their workers. Therefore, people struggling with drugs or alcohol abuse can seek treatment at a rehab centre as the employer has a duty of care.

You can sue your boss if they dismiss you or penalize you because of your addiction. 

Talking to your employer about rehab 

If you plan to attend rehab for substance abuse treatment, you should start by reading the employee handbook before taking action. This will help you find out if there's a protocol that you need to follow when seeking addiction treatment. 

Most companies will require to report any issues to the human resources department. In others, you may have to report to a supervisor or upper-level manager.

It's okay to be honest about your struggle with substance use and the need for treatment as most employees are protected by confidentiality. Also, you can talk to them in a private place to maintain confidentiality. 

During the conversation with your employer, it would help to communicate how receiving treatment would help you improve your work performance.

You can talk to them about your rehab plan and how you'll need to take some time off to focus solely on treatment. 

Most employers are willing to give protected leave during your stay at residential treatment. This is important as it allows you to enter a rehab programme without stressing about your job. 

Even if you opt for outpatient treatment, it is advisable to take some time off from work.  

Substance use disorders usually lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can be dangerous in cases of severe addictions.

That's why it's essential to take a medical leave even when pursuing outpatient treatment options. 

You should be clear about the amount of time you'll need to take off, plus the necessary accommodations that should be in place while you're away. Most companies are willing to provide employees with job-protected leave.

However, in most cases, it is usually an unpaid leave. What's more, you may be required to fill out the paperwork concerning your unpaid leave.

You may also have to sign a Return-to-work agreement detailing what's expected of your return after going to rehab. 

Some of the features contained in a return-to-work agreement are: 

  • Acknowledging that you may lose your job following poor performance after you complete rehab treatment. 
  • Providing regular progress reports during treatment. 
  • Participating in a 12-step programme or support group after completing a treatment program. 
  • Agreeing to regular drug or alcohol testing. 
  • Complying with all treatment recommendations from the addiction treatment provider. 

If you sign a return-to-work agreement, you must comply with all the requirements stipulated within the contract. 

What to tell your boss if you need to go to rehab 

Most people struggling with substance use disorder fear telling their supervisor or people they work with about the issue. However, there is a chance that they may know.

Even if you are a high-functioning alcoholic, substance abuse issues have a way of impacting your job performance plus other areas of your life. 

There is a likelihood that your boss or manager already knows or suspects that you're battling substance abuse. Consequently, be open and honest in your conversation with your boss/manager.

You should: 

  1. Talk to your manager first before talking to your co-workers. 
  2. Share your concerns about work performance and hope that addiction treatment will positively contribute to your job productivity. 
  3. Show them that you already have taken measures or will take measures to ensure all your work projects are taken care of while you seek addiction treatment. 
  4. Come prepared with a rehab plan so that they'll know that you're serious about drug rehab for substance abuse. The plan will also help your employer understand how much time you need and any accommodations you may need. 

After talking to your boss, you have to speak to your co-workers. It is essential to speak to your co-workers so that they'll prepare for your absence.

Also, communicating to them that you'll be away for addiction treatment helps them consider what they need to know before leaving. 

You can keep your intent to go to a treatment facility confidential by stating that you'll be going for medical leave. If someone keeps pressing you on the matter, it is okay to tell them that you feel uncomfortable discussing it.

Some people are open about their intent to enter drug or alcohol rehab. Either way, it is up to you how best to handle the situation. 

Privacy concerns at work while in rehab 

Each company has its own set of policies in place for dealing with drug and alcohol rehab cases. Still, there are laws in place to ensure that your privacy is upheld while in rehab.

In the U.K., every contract of employment contains a duty of mutual trust and confidence.  

The implied duty states that "neither employer nor employee will act to breach the duty of mutual trust and confidence that exists between them without good reason [5]. 

The common law duty of care states that employers must take reasonable care of employees. Failure to do so may lead to a claim of negligence.

If an employee lets their employer continue working, they are aware of their alcohol or drug addiction; they risk breaching a duty of care. 

Both the employee and the employer could be sued for negligence if injury occurs at the workplace while the employee is under the influence of alcohol or drug addiction. 

Several pieces of law protect the employee at work while going to rehab. Some of these laws include: 

  • The Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971 
  • Health and Safety at Work 
  • Road Traffic Act of 1988 
  • Human Rights Act 1988 
  • Equality Act 2010 (disabilities act ) 
  • Psychoactive substances Act 2016 
  • Data Protection Act 2018 (along with the (and E.U. General Data Protection Regulation' GDPR') 
  • Employment Rights Act 1996 

In the U.S., there are federal laws in place to protect your privacy. One of the main laws is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

HIPPA protects the privacy of your medical records, including information about you going to rehab. Under HIPPA, you can request your information not to be disclosed to your employer or certain people or groups. 

Still, it's important to note that there are circumstances where your drugs or alcohol treatment information may be shared without your consent, e.g., in criminal investigations or court order. 


Can I get fired for getting treatment? 

You can't get fired for getting treatment as there are laws in place to protect you. Even if you want to seek inpatient rehabilitation, you can do so and still keep your job.

The Family and Medical leave act (FMLA) protects individuals from discrimination and helps them enter a treatment facility without losing their jobs. 

Once you enter a treatment centre, you're protected by the Equality Act of 2010 (in the U.K.). Those in the U.S. are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Attending a treatment centre means that you cannot get fired even if you miss work because of treatment. If you're fired, you can file a charge of discrimination against your boss. 

The more severe addictions, e.g., addiction to crack cocaine, benzos, or alcohol, may require you to receive treatment at an inpatient rehab. The Medical leave act permits you to do so without getting fired.

The FMLA allows qualified employees to take 12 weeks of medical leave per year for issues about addiction treatment. 

What protections am I provided at work? 

There are legal protections available to you at work. First of all, the Americans with disabilities act (ADA) protects you from workplace discrimination.

If you experience any form of discrimination, you can file a case at the U.S. Equal employment opportunity commission. In the U.K., The Common Law principles of vicarious liability protect you at work [2]. 

Remember that you can take a medical leave and enter inpatient treatment. Alternatively, if you are struggling with mild drug or alcohol abuse, your employer can make accommodations that help you seek outpatient rehabilitation.

Your employer is required to keep your information about treatment confidential. 

When looking at treatment options, you look for executive rehab or rehab programs that cater to executives and professionals. Such programmes permit you to continue with job-related tasks while getting treatment. 

How to go to rehab and keep your job 

Not everyone can go to rehab and keep their job. Those who are severely addicted require some time off for medical detox. However, those who seek help early enough can manage to go for treatment and continue with work. 

Those struggling with mild addiction can go for outpatient rehab. This treatment option is flexible as you get to attend rehab at a convenient time while working.

Intensive outpatient program is another flexible form of outpatient treatment.  

Here, you get treatment for addiction and other co-occurring disorders at your own convenient time. Others may prefer an online treatment program that you can attend whenever you're free.

Some employers may allow you to work part-time so that you can attend a rehab program. 

If you are chronic alcohol or drug user, the best treatment option is residential treatment/inpatient rehab. Short-term inpatient programs (run for 28 days) or long-term options (can last for over 3 to 12 months).

Most employers may have a policy in place for employees who need residential services, e.g., return to work agreement.  

Alternatively, employee assistance programs help workers struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues, and other work-related problems. 

The NHS provides individual placement and support services to aid in employment. This program is for people with severe mental health and substance abuse issues [6]. 

Research your options 

Once you understand your employer's policies about addiction treatment, you can research the options available for you. Many resources can help you in that endeavour.

Some of the resources available include: 

  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs): Many employers offer EAP to help employers with substance abuse and mental health issues. 
  • Your health insurance provider: Your health insurance company may offer partial or full coverage for addiction treatment. 
  • Drug and alcohol rehab for executives: There are treatment centres that cater to high-level executives. Such treatment centres are a suitable option for executives who have a hard time letting go of work. The rehab program provided in such facilities contains every essential aspect of rehab, such as addiction medicine and therapy. Moreover, they have advanced recovery systems in place for effective, prompt recovery. 

Most drug or alcohol rehab centres have a qualified admissions representative on call to discuss the available treatment options for employees.

If you have no option but to go for inpatient treatment, you can still do so using an FMLA-protected leave. 

It would help if you decided which treatment option to pursue before talking to your boss. Don't let treatment paying prevent you from seeking the right treatment program for yourself.

Once you choose the right plan, you may be covered employer. 

After treatment & returning to work 

Taking time off to attend treatment has numerous medical benefits. For starters, you get to focus on improving your health and wellness without worrying about work.

Also, you get to engage in support groups which is detrimental to long-term recovery. 

Returning to work after rehab may cause discomfort. You may worry about your ability to continue where you picked off or about your bosses' reaction in the event of a relapse. 

Most employers would require you to take a drug test occasionally or, in some cases, once after rehab. If you signed a return-to-work agreement, you are expected to comply with its requirements.

If your work performance declines or you fail a drug test, you may face disciplinary action such as being terminated from your job. 

Some companies offer support to their employees when they return to work. Some employers may require you to continue attending support groups such as A.A. meetings for some time after rehab. 

Getting the much-needed substance abuse treatment 

Understandably, the risk of losing your job can keep you from seeking rehab. However, failing to address the addiction problem early enough is likely to make the situation worse.

For instance, there are cases where an addicted employee embarrasses themselves at the company party and gets fired.

Addiction can also harm your health, your relationship with friends and family, and your career development. 

The sooner you seek rehab, the faster it will be to bounce back and continue with your life. 

You can begin by looking into your employer's policy concerning substance abuse. Next, you can look for a rehab program that suits your needs. Your G.P. can help you in that endeavour. 

Once you find the right rehab program, you can talk to your employer about your willingness to seek help for your addiction.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that it is illegal to discriminate against employees struggling with substance abuse.

Also, federal law offers you protection at the workplace as you seek addiction services. 

The first step is always the hardest. But once you admit to yourself that you need help and communicate the same to your employer, you are well on your way to recovery.

Numerous addiction treatment centres near you can help you develop a personalized plan that sets you on a path to long-term sobriety. You can reach out to a rehab centre today to begin your recovery journey. 

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: October 31, 2023