How Can You Protect Yourself Against Workplace Discrimination During Recovery?

How Can You Protect Yourself Against Workplace Discrimination During Recovery?

Many recovering individuals face challenges when transitioning back into their workplace. Did you know that you are entitled to certain rights as an employee? There are laws relating to mental health conditions, including the right to privacy, reasonable accommodations, safe working conditions, and a work experience free from discrimination.

You do not need to face these issues alone. Working professionals in recovery need continued support from a strong community. Luckily, there are many ways to achieve this.

How Prevalent Is Workplace Discrimination Against Recovering Individuals?

Substance use disorder (SUD) is among the most common health conditions in the U.S. Although SUD is more prevalent in individuals outside the labor force, they do show up among workers. This crossover can come with lost productivity and even accidents at work. With the legalization of marijuana and the widespread use of illicit drugs, a growing percentage of America’s full-time employees meet the criteria for SUD.

At the same time, SUD is also among the most stigmatizing health conditions, even when compared with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. But, again, this has much to do with the public’s associating substance use with criminality and illegal activities.

Given these two co-occurring social trends, people recovering from SUD may experience discrimination in the workplace. It takes the form of discharge, discipline, harassment, and more unfair treatment practices of those who need help or are in recovery.

What Should I Know About Laws That Protect My Rights at Work?

The laws relating to workplace discrimination against recovering individuals are pretty complex. However, the bottom line is that federal laws require employers to accommodate their employees’ treatment and recovery.

In reality, many employers do not understand their legal obligations. If that is the case, those employees in recovery can educate their higher-ups in this respect while advocating for themselves. Addiction is no different from other chronic diseases regarding the protection the law provides. The protected nature of addiction is the same as other forms of disability.

Federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulates that employers may not ask questions about past addiction in job interviews. Such questions are considered disability-related. Employers should also not include such questions in required medical exams. After hiring, an employer must accommodate workers in addiction recovery. For example, they may need to extend certain benefits, including leave time.

Besides the ADA, other laws protecting the rights of those in recovery include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Act, and the Workforce Investment Act. These are civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Some states, such as California, have even more laws providing stronger protections.  

What Reasonable Accommodations Are Required by the ADA?

For people in addiction recovery, the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees in recovery. These accommodations often include a modified work schedule so that the worker can attend regular peer support meetings and an extended leave of absence so that the worker can seek treatment. Some recovery-supportive employers also offer company resources or assistance.

Federal laws also prohibit employers from blaming misconduct on drug use or alcoholism. For example, the ADA makes a distinction between alcoholism and alcoholism-related misconduct. This means an employer cannot fire or discipline an employee simply because of their status as a person in addiction recovery. However, if that employee is a current substance user, they are not protected by the disability-related laws in the ADA.

How Can I Request Reasonable Accommodations at Work?

Given these legal protections, individuals should be confident about requesting reasonable accommodations at work. They can take the initiative of setting up a meeting with their supervisor or HR department and be upfront about attending therapy, peer support meetings, or seeking further treatment. It may be beneficial to request getting approval for these accommodations in writing.

To propose ideas for change, individuals should go into the meeting prepared with draft work schedules, leave dates, availability, and the best ways to communicate during their leave. Working from home is becoming another popular option that allows flexibility in work schedules.

How Can I Keep My Job While Getting Support?

Many people in addiction recovery experience job loss and need new employment after treatment. Several government programs and many nonprofit organizations provide support and guidance. For example, the National H.I.R.E. Network helps recovering individuals with criminal records find and keep new jobs.

There is no reason to avoid or delay treatment because of a job. In reality, delaying treatment can eventually cause people to lose their job. Fear of workplace discrimination should never be a barrier to seeking treatment. Treatment and ongoing recovery programs are excellent choices to keep an individual’s professional life alive and help them stay financially sufficient.

Navigating a job situation while recovering is not easy. Not all recovering individuals know about their rights at work. If you face discrimination because of your status as a person in addiction recovery, make sure you understand the laws protecting you from these situations. If you are unsure how to communicate with an employer about accommodations to support recovery, you may need to find more support. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our recovery experts are compassionate partners for working professionals. We apply evidence-based treatment, adopt an integrated and holistic approach to recovery, and walk alongside alumni who experience work-related challenges. We have your back so that you can focus on recovery. Call (866) 774-1532.