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Telling Your Employer About Your Addiction

by Landmark Recovery

August 18, 2020
A woman talking to an employer about her addiction


Most people who struggle with excessive drinking or drug abuse want help for their problems. According to the 2018 National Survey carried out by SAMHSA, 75% of people who seek treatment for substance abuse are employed.

Acknowledging that your substance abuse is affecting your life is an important step on the road to recovery. Seeking treatment for the issue is vital so that you can start to recover from your addiction before it enters the workplace.

One major hang-up that causes people to put off seeking treatment for their addictions is worrying about how doing so will affect their job. Concerns about job security don’t need to be the deciding factor in whether or not to seek treatment for addiction.


Starting The Conversation

  A woman talking to an employer about her addiction

Many people choose to be an open book, explaining exactly what the issue is and their need for treatment. Others opt to be choosy with who they share this information with, sometimes just their boss and HR.

Because substance abuse and addiction tend to cause problems at work, it’s perfectly possible that your boss and coworkers already know you are struggling.

It can be scary to be vulnerable and admit that you need help, but it’s quite possible your employer will value your honesty. Additionally, when you’re upfront with your employer about your problems with addiction, they might be able to direct you to resources you were unaware of.


Employee Assistance Programs

Many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs or EAPs. If you are laboring with addiction, check with your employer’s HR department to see if this is something your employer offers.

EAPs are confidential and they can be an excellent way to receive screenings and treatment referrals. Many also offer follow-up care. EAPs are a great starting point when you’re ready to seek treatment, so be sure to see if this is a resource available to you.


Can I Lose My Job For Seeking Treatment?

A woman researching to see if you can lose your job for going to substance abuse treatment

Once you commit to seeking treatment for your addiction, you might be worried about losing your job. Thankfully, in the United States there are several federal laws that can furnish you with some protection.

Two specific areas of interest are the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Let’s take a deeper look at these now.



The FMLA was created to offer protection to workers who need to take leave for medical reasons. Eligible employees can be given up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off work each year without risking the loss of their job.

State, local, and federal employees as well as those who work in education are automatically covered under FMLA.

For everyone else, there are certain guidelines that determine eligibility.

You are eligible for FMLA protections if you meet the following requirements:

  • Your employer must have 50 or more employees within 75 miles
  • You must have been employed by the business for at least 12 months
  • You must have worked 1250 hours minimum over the last 12 months

Even though addiction and substance abuse are considered a serious health problem, they are not always protected under FMLA. To ensure you are covered under FMLA, you must inform your employer of your addiction as well as your intention to seek treatment before you enter treatment. The treatment for substance abuse must also be provided by a health care provider. FMLA does not protect you from missing work due to the use of substances, it only protects you for treatment of substance abuse.

Beyond this, the Department of Labor clarifies that should your employer have a non-discriminatory “no tolerance” policy with regard to substances use, employees can be terminated whether or not they are utilizing FMLA leave.



Employers are free to have policies that ensure drug-free workplaces, and they are not required to offer protections to employees who currently abuse drugs, alcohol, or other substances.

However, the Americans with Disabilities Act does prohibit the majority of employers from discriminating against people in recovery from addiction, or those who have sought treatment for their addictions. This means employers cannot terminate employment, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote an employee simply because they have a history of substance abuse or are currently in treatment for addiction.

The ADA considers addiction a disability, and as such it requires that your employer offer “reasonable accommodations” such as a modified work schedule to attend meetings or a temporary leave of absence that would allow the employee to attend a treatment program.


Legal Protections

Both the FMLA and ADA offer legal protections for employees who seek treatment for substance abuse. Should your employer violate either of these acts, you can seek redress.

If the FMLA is violated by your employer, you can take legal action. Your employer may be required to compensate you for lost wages and loss of future earning potential. They can also be held responsible for any liquidated damages.

Violating the ADA constitutes federal action. While you wouldn’t be monetarily compensated if your employer were found guilty, they could be ordered to offer you reasonable accommodations as you seek treatment.


What To Do Next

Keep in mind that the most important thing about entering a treatment program is that you are trying to get healthy. Addiction is a medical issue, but only 11% of people with addiction receive treatment. Don’t let the fear of losing your job keep you from getting healthy.

Here at Landmark Recovery, we have the tools and programs you need. We are standing by, ready to help you overcome your addiction. To find out what your options are, call our friendly team today at 888-448-0302.


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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.