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Transitioning Back to Work After Rehab

Published by Daniel Brooks Moore on

Transitioning back to work after rehab treatment is doable. Understanding your legal protections, where to find resources and how to cope can make it easier.

Going back to work after completing rehab can be scary. After spending a significant period of time in a recovery program, you must now face the stressors of daily life and juggle the demands that come with work and family. 

You may be worried about losing your job after being away for rehab. Or, perhaps you are concerned that the stress of returning to community life will be a trigger for relapse.  While these feelings are normal, many people are able to make the transition back to work and continue a sober lifestyle after rehab. Supportive resources and legal protections are available to ease the transition and promote long-term recovery.

According to the United States Department of Labor, a substance use disorder may be considered a serious health condition in some circumstances. If you require inpatient treatment or ongoing treatment, your time off from work is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In this circumstance, your employer cannot take action against you because of work absences. You can also benefit from FMLA if you provide care for a family member going through treatment.

As helpful as the FMLA can be for rehab, it’s important to know the boundaries of FMLA protection. The FMLA does not protect a person’s job if work absences are due to substance use itself. Furthermore, if a person’s workplace has a clearly stated policy that substance use can result in termination, FMLA does not apply.

Legally, what all of this means is that if you receive addiction treatment through a healthcare provider, your employer cannot fire you solely because you decided to seek treatment. On the other hand, if your workplace has a policy against substance abuse and you have violated this policy, you could be terminated. 

Once you return to work after completing inpatient treatment, you may be protected if you have to be absent from work for ongoing treatment. For instance, if you need to attend intensive outpatient appointments as a part of your ongoing drug addiction treatment, your job will be protected if you meet FMLA requirements. 

That being said, FMLA will not protect your job if you violate your employer’s substance abuse policy. For instance, if you come to work under the influence of drugs, which is a violation of most workplace policies, you can be fired, even if you are receiving treatment under FMLA. 

It is important to keep in mind there are certain requirements that you must meet to qualify for leave under FMLA. You must: 

  • Work at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to the leave, which is about 25 hours or more per week
  • Work at a location that has 50 employees working within 75 miles over the previous 12 months

If you qualify, you may be eligible for a modified work schedule or reduced hours to allow you to attend ongoing treatment when you go back to work after rehab. 

Establishing Accommodations with Your Employer 

If you are transitioning back to work after rehab,  it is important to establish any needed accommodations with your employer. You should contact your human resources department to determine if you will need to certify your leave, which requires you to provide your employer with notification from a medical professional, certifying the necessity of your medical leave. You will need to contact human resources regarding the dates you expect to be absent from work for ongoing treatment and any modified work hours you will need. 

The FMLA protections can also help you cope once you return to the workplace after rehab. For example, FMLA allows you to work reduced hours after treatment. This means that you can use FMLA leave for your initial rehab stay, and then once you return to work, you may work part-time to allow you to take time off for intensive outpatient appointments while transitioning back to your job. This may include informing your employer of your ongoing treatment schedule, for example. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also offers protections in the form of accommodations. If you are drug-free but require changes to the way your work is performed, the protections under this act apply. If you have completed rehab and are remaining drug-free, this means that your employer cannot discriminate against you and is required to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure you can be successful at work.

If you require accommodations and are unsure how to establish them with your employer, there is help available. You can reach out to the Job Accommodation Network by phone at 1-800-526-7234 or seek assistance through their website

Coping With & Handling Discrimination at Work After Rehab

People struggling with addiction sometimes fear the social stigma involved with coming back to work after rehab. “Will my coworkers judge me or treat me differently upon my return?” is a common question. While it’s important to prepare for negative reactions as you continue your recovery journey, your workplace relationships after rehab may also change positively. The truth is seeking recovery is a courageous and difficult task, and your struggle with substances may have harmed your work ability prior to your treatment. Though discrimination might happen, there is a possibility you might be supported in your decision to better yourself. 

(ADA) also protects people with addictions from discrimination, so long as they are not currently engaging in substance abuse. If you feel that you are being discriminated against at work after completing rehab, an ADA specialist may help you manage this and find a solution. You can also file a complaint if you feel your employer has violated the law.

Before reaching out to an ADA specialist, it may help talk to your human resources director to resolve any conflict. If you feel that you are experiencing judgment from coworkers, processing these feelings with your therapist can help you cope. 

Tips for Returning to Work After Treatment

Returning to work after rehab is an important and challenging step in recovery. This step is the start of a new chapter in your life. To help with this important transition period, many rehab centers offer transitional care and extended support. Check with your treatment center to find out what options are available to you. 

At The Recovery Village, many of our representatives and facility employees are in recovery from addiction and faced returning to their careers after treatment. Here are a few tips they offered for returning to work:

1. Decide What To Say to Coworkers In Advance

“Dealing with coworkers again may feel somewhat awkward at first, even if you enjoy working with them. You may be close to some coworkers and just acquaintances with others. Prepare a few comments to help you feel ready for the first conversations. Decide how much you are ready to reveal about your recovery and to whom. You have control over how much information you share, including the option to keep things entirely private.”— Kevin ReeseEastern Outreach Director, in long-term recovery

2. Discuss the Transition with Your Employer

“Your employer is a valuable ally in your recovery process. You and your employer can create a work transition plan that fits your specific situation. Share your treatment goals and needs with them so they know about changes in your living arrangements or work availability. The plan also helps your employer know what to do if you struggle during your transition.”— Megan PowellSenior Community Outreach Coordinator, in recovery

3. Have a Plan to Handle Work-Related Stress

“No matter how much you like your job or coworkers, stress at work is unavoidable. Depending on how long you’ve been on the job, you’ll know which stress triggers are at your job. Use your treatment recovery plan to help you manage these stressful moments. Decide which coping skills will work for your work setting and discuss the options with your boss.”— Sam RosenthalCommunity Outreach Director, in long-term recovery

4. Follow Through with Aftercare

“Your aftercare treatment plan is essential to transitioning from rehab to work. A major transition like this can have ups and downs, so rely on your aftercare plan to keep your relapse risk lower. Aftercare plans are there to support you and keep you accountable in recovery. Support groups and alumni gatherings are vital aftercare resources to use.” — Jacob Spencer- Intake Manager, in long-term recovery

5. Utilize Your Employee Assistance Program

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are available for many jobs in the U.S. These programs help give short-term support for workplace conflicts, behavioral health issues, workplace violence and family stress. EAP programs can also help with local referrals. If you get into a difficult situation during your recovery, an EAP can give you additional support and interventions that fit your work setting.”— Robert FishmanVP of Admissions, over ten years in recovery

6. Beware of Burnout

“Burnout is a combination of physical, emotional and psychological exhaustion. Recovering from a substance use disorder can make exhaustion more likely, which can mean burnout relapse. You’ve just established your healthy habits, so they’re less stable. You might also find yourself replacing your substance use with an addiction to work. At this early stage, it can take less stress and exhaustion to cause you to relapse. Take self-care seriously and prioritize healthy eating and good sleep.”— Joe FiorelloSenior Community Outreach Coordinator, over 25 years in recovery

7. Know You Are Not Alone

“You are not alone in your recovery process. It’s not always a smooth ride. You may have some uncomfortable experiences getting back into your work environment. Know that many other people have successfully traveled this road before you. Recovery can feel lonely at times. Stay connected with your most supportive relationships, caring professionals and support groups. Keep in mind that many people are ready to help and encourage you.”— Don RogersCommunity Outreach Director, in long-term recovery

8. Return-to-Work Agreements

“Return-to-work agreements spell out expectations for an employee returning to work after treatment. The return-to-work agreement is confidential; so are any communications between your supervisor and you. This agreement protects you and your employer. It’s a clear reminder of your personal accountability to your workplace and how they are expected to help you in return.”— Brett WatsonDirector of Admissions, in long-term recovery

Treatment Programs That Help Prepare You for This Transition

Treatment programs that offer aftercare support can allow you to make a smoother transition back to work after rehab. Aftercare programs help you make a plan for setting outpatient appointments, determine what you will do if faced with relapse triggers, and identify ways to manage your behaviors.

At The Recovery Village, we value aftercare programming and begin planning for it at the start of your treatment journey. We also offer alumni events and check-ins to allow you to stay connected with the recovery community and keep you on track with your aftercare plan. We are also pleased to offer teletherapy, so you can receive addiction counseling services from the comfort of home. This can be especially useful if you are transitioning back to the workplace and have limited time in your schedule for office-based appointments.

Moving to Another Company

While there are legal protections and supports in place to help you transition back to work after rehab, you may ultimately find that you’re better off moving to a better company. This may be especially true if your former job was high-stress and demanding, which can be a relapse trigger. If your workplace included coworkers who used to do drugs and alcohol with you, it may not help return to this environment. This can certainly threaten your sobriety.

If you are looking to change companies after completing rehab, you may find you’re comfortable working in the addiction treatment field. There are a variety of jobs available in this setting, including finance and billing staff, therapists, chefs, nurses, housekeepers, behavioral technicians and nursing assistants. Explore our job portal to view open positions at The Recovery Village.

Getting Additional Help & Information

If you are going back to work after rehab and have questions or concerns, the Job Accommodation Network, ADA, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are available for additional help and information. They can answer questions you may have about what your legal rights are and what constitutes discrimination.

Contact information for these sources are as follows:

Hopefully, your transition back to work after rehab will be smooth, and you can receive the support you need from human resources. In extreme cases, you may have to contact an attorney or seek legal advice for rights violations associated with returning to work after rehab. If this is the case, the National Disability Rights Network may be able to link you to legal support.

Getting Help For an Addiction

Many people in the workplace struggle silently with a substance use disorder. If you or a loved one needs treatment, The Recovery Village can help. Our caring professionals can answer questions and help you start your recovery. Call today and speak with a representative from The Recovery Village and move toward a healthier future.



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