One of the most challenging parts of getting help is telling your employer that you need time off for treatment, but that conversation will probably go much more smoothly than you think.
You’ve taken all the online tests and you’ve listened to what family and friends have to say. You know you have a problem. You’re ready to get treatment. But how do you tell your employer that you need off for treatment? Will you be able to keep your job? Will it hurt your chances of promotion or future opportunities?
First things first: get treatment. Don’t wait to get help. The sooner you seek treatment, the faster you’ll break free from addiction.
The next thing to know is that your supervisor probably already knows that something is wrong. Too many absences, sick days, or days when you walk in straight from partying all night sends signals that are hard for most people to ignore. In most cases, supervisors aren’t surprised that you’re seeking treatment. In fact, many will be glad that you’re getting help.
5 Steps to Help You Tell Your Employer You’re Heading to Addiction Treatment
Step 1: Research and understand your rights
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. You have the right to return to your current position after taking time off for medical treatment, parental leave, and other major life events.
You are eligible for FMLA if you have worked for your current employer for over 12 months, during which you worked 1,250 hours. You must work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. If you meet these criteria, your time off for treatment is covered by FMLA.
Step 2: Review your current available time off and healthcare benefits
Before FMLA takes over, you may be required to use up your available vacation, personal, and sick leave. Then, FMLA starts once your paid leave ends. Call your company’s human resources department and request an update of your current available paid time off.
It’s also a good idea to review any specific policies from your company. Drug and alcohol treatment counts as medical leave. Request information from your human resources department. Many companies now have this information on their intranet or HR self-serve portal. Check your health insurance benefits as well to see if you need to pre-admission referrals from your physician or an addiction counselor before entering rehab.
Step 3: State the facts and be honest
Even people who have great relationships with their supervisors can be nervous when meeting to talk about leaving for addiction treatment. It helps to plan ahead of the meeting and to bring notes with you if you tend to forget what you want to say when you get nervous.
Be completely honest with your supervisor about why you need time off, how long you plan to be away, and what may need to happen during your absence. During the conversation, your employer may ask questions about the nature of your addiction. Your only obligation is to share when you plan to leave and how long you’ll be away.
Step 4: Plan for your absence
Make a plan with your supervisor so that all of your work is covered during your absence. Help update work calendars, files, and anything else that can make the transition smooth. Talk to your team and let them know how long you will be away and that contact may be difficult. Identify and assign someone else on the team to be the go-to person for your subordinate’s questions while you are away.
Step 5: Keep details private
With almost 20 million Americans battling substance abuse disorder, it’s likely that your coworkers or someone they love are in a treatment program. It’s tempting to want to tell others where you’re going, but there’s no need.
While your immediate supervisor and staff may need to know that you’ll be gone for an extended period, most people at your place of work do not need to know why. Only say that you are leaving for medical treatment and leave it at that. Although most people understand the nature of addiction, many others believe in harmful addiction stigma. If you aren’t sure how people will react, it’s best to keep quiet about your reasons for an extended absence.
Get Treatment Now
The first step to get help for your drug or alcohol addiction is to admit that you need help. Telling your supervisor that you need time off may feel like a huge hurdle to jump before entering residential treatment.
You may be afraid that you’ll be permanently branded with a scarlet “A” for “addict” if you tell your supervisor where you’re heading, but it’s likely people at work know, or at least, suspect your secret. One of the first things you’ll learn in rehab is to be honest about yourself and your addiction. Talking to your supervisor about time off is a big first step on the road to recovery.