There are lots of different kinds of bosses in the world.
Maybe your boss is approachable and easy to talk with. Maybe he or she is more like a coach or a mentor than a stereotypical boss. Or maybe you have a “my way or the highway” sort of person in charge. There are as many approaches to being the boss as there are personalities.
But regardless of what kind of boss you may work for, if you are struggling with a substance use disorder and need to enter residential treatment, you are going to have to have a conversation with that person. And there’s just no way around it: the conversation is likely to be difficult for a variety of reasons. You may be concerned about how the boss will react, whether the information you share will be kept private, and, ultimately, whether you will be able to keep you job.
Given these concerns and challenges, it is a good idea to have a plan.
First Steps: Company Policies and Legal Rights
Were you given any handbooks or policy guides (physical or online) when you joined your company? If so, you will want to read through them again to see what they say about leaves of absence and other issues that may be relevant in your situation. If that sort of information isn’t readily available to you, your human resources department should be able to provide you with the details about all company policies.
You will also want to have a good understanding of the relevant laws. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that companies have broad discretion to fire individuals who are actively taking illicit drugs or who come to work impaired by drugs or alcohol. You are not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if you are using illegal substances.
That’s the bad news. The good news, however, is that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does protect you if you need to take a leave of absence as a result of a serious health condition. Under the FMLA, you are allowed to take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks to pursue residential treatment for your substance use disorder.
Next Steps: Have a Plan
Ideally, you will have a plan in place for starting your rehabilitation before you talk with the boss. Selecting a treatment center and having a good sense of how long you might be away will give you confidence when talking with your employer, because you will be able to clearly demonstrate that you are taking your substance use disorder seriously and are taking positive, necessary steps to begin the recovery journey.
Final Steps: The Conversation Itself
It’s go time. But to be honest, you may not feel much like rushing into this potentially challenging conversation. Still, it is better to talk with your boss sooner than later—and to talk with the boss before you talk with any of your coworkers. You want to be in control of the information you share, and if you have told your peers—even those you truly trust—there is a strong possibility that a rumor will be floating around the workplace. So, again, have the conversation as early as you can and make sure the boss is the first person to hear that you have a problem and are ready to seek treatment for it.
Work up the courage to be honest and straightforward with your employer. The plan you have already put in place will certainly help because it will include details that may reassure your boss that you are truly committed to recovery. It is also essential to be forthright in this conversation because it is likely not the last conversation you will need to have with your boss. Once you have left residential treatment, you will need to discuss reintegrating into the workplace, and that may well include further accommodations in the early days of your recovery. Your boss is far more likely to be sympathetic to your needs if you have opened a clear and honest line of communication about the challenges you are facing.
A Final Consideration: Is This the Right Job for You?
You will, of course, be under quite a bit of stress in the run up to entering treatment. Having a plan for talking with your boss may lessen that stress and help you feel sure your job will be waiting for you on the other side of rehab.
That said, treatment will allow you the time to really think about your current employment. Does the culture at your workplace support the sobriety you are hoping to achieve? There are lots of factors to look at as you consider this question—including whether or not you have a good relationship with your boss. If that relationship is difficult and an ongoing cause of stress, it may be a good idea to seek different employment.
A job search during recovery may be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. So be honest with yourself and decide whether your current job works for you or against you as work toward ongoing sobriety.
A Promise: We Will Not Be Bossy
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, our commitment is to helping you or a loved one address a substance use disorder in ways that will work for you. We are not a “one size fits all” operation. Rather, we will work with you to find the treatment options and resources that will best address your situation. There’s work to be done, of course, but we’ll be working right alongside you.