Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Contributors & Editors

Julie Miller

Addiction & Mental Health Writer

Last Update on March 18, 2024

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Recovery is a deeply personal journey that can unexpectedly intersect with our professional lives. One such intersection is deciding whether to disclose recovery status to an employer. Before making such a disclosure, it’s essential to consider the potential advantages, risks, and other vital factors.

The Prevalence of Substance Use Disorders in the Workforce

Around 46 million Americans are estimated to struggle with a substance use disorder. Research based on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2012-2018 indicates that approximately 1 in 11 American workers had a substance use disorder during the previous year. Additionally, national data shows that roughly 70% (which equates to around 13.6 million workers) of all adults with an alcohol or illicit drug use disorder are employed.

On a positive note, a national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that 72.2% of adults who have experienced substance use problems are recovering or in recovery. These statistics emphasize the need for workplace assistance and rehabilitation programs to address issues related to substance abuse in the American workforce.

It is important to have an open dialogue and provide support in the workplace. Someone in recovery is highly likely to be part of any given workplace, even if they have not disclosed it publicly.

Understanding Addiction Recovery

Recovering from addiction is a complex and personal process where an individual strives to regain control of their life from substance misuse or addictive behaviors. This journey typically involves several stages:

Stages of Recovery

The process of ridding the body of toxic substances.

Challenges Faced by Individuals in Recovery

Individuals in recovery face numerous challenges that can impact their professional lives:

  • Physical health issues resulting from their addiction
  • Mental health struggles like depression or anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Daily struggle to maintain sobriety despite triggers and cravings

These challenges can affect their ability to concentrate, be punctual, maintain interpersonal relationships, and perform their job. Sometimes, individuals may require specific accommodations, such as a flexible schedule for therapy or counseling appointments.

Hiding their recovery status can be stressful, and disclosing this information might be essential in their professional and recovery journey. Employers need to create a supportive and understanding environment that encourages open communication and provides the necessary resources for employees in recovery.

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Legal Protections and Rights for Employees in Recovery

In the United States, substance use disorder is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These laws recognize substance use disorders as impairments that can limit major life activities and classify them as disabilities.1

Discrimination Protection

Employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees or job applicants with a history of substance use disorder as long as they are not currently using illegal drugs and can perform their duties. These laws also apply to individuals who are perceived to have a substance use disorder, even if they don’t. The goal of recognizing substance use disorder as a disability is to eliminate barriers to employment, education, and other essential aspects of life for those struggling with this health challenge. However, it’s important to note that these laws do not protect active illegal drug use, and employers can still maintain drug-free workplaces.

Reasonable Accommodations

Employees in recovery may be eligible for “reasonable accommodations” to support their ongoing treatment or sobriety as long as these accommodations do not cause an undue burden on the employer. Examples of reasonable accommodations might include:

  • Flexible scheduling to attend therapy or support group meetings
  • Temporary job restructuring or modified work schedules
  • Reassignment to a different position or location
  • Providing additional time off for treatment or recovery

 

Employers must interact with employees who request accommodations to determine reasonable and feasible accommodations.

Confidentiality and Privacy

Under the ADA, employers are required to keep any medical information about an employee’s disability, including substance use disorder, confidential. This means that if an employee discloses their recovery status to their employer, the employer cannot share this information with others without the employee’s consent. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, supervisors and managers may be informed about necessary restrictions on the work or duties of an employee and necessary accommodations. Knowing these legal rights is essential when deciding whether to disclose one’s recovery status to an employer. It can provide security and protection against discrimination while allowing accommodations to support ongoing recovery efforts.

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Assess Your Workplace Environment Before Disclosing Your Recovery Status

Consider the company culture and your relationship with your boss before disclosing your recovery status. If you feel your workplace is supportive and your boss is understanding, it is beneficial to have an honest conversation to discuss any necessary accommodations or support you need. However, if you’re unsure about how your disclosure will be received, it’s important to remember that you are not legally obligated to share your recovery status with your employer.

Assessing Your Workplace Culture

Before you decide to share your recovery status, it’s essential to assess your workplace culture. This involves understanding your organization’s attitudes toward mental health and addiction. You can observe this through various indicators, such as the company’s policies, leadership communication, employee programs, and overall attitudes.

Indicators of a Supportive Workplace Culture

  • Open dialogue about mental health and addiction
  • Workshops or awareness programs on these topics
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs) that provide resources and support
  • Inclusive and non-discriminatory language in company policies and communications
  • Leadership that openly supports and advocates for mental health and well-being

 

If your organization demonstrates these characteristics, it may be more likely to be supportive of individuals dealing with mental health or addiction issues.

Seeking Guidance from HR or EAPs

If you need more clarification about your workplace culture, consider seeking guidance from your Human Resources department or employee assistance programs if they are available. These resources can provide valuable insight into your rights and the company’s history of handling similar situations. HR professionals can help you understand the company’s policies and procedures related to accommodations, leave, and confidentiality. They can also advise you on approaching the conversation with your employer and what to expect regarding support or potential challenges. EAPs often provide confidential counseling and resources for employees dealing with personal or work-related issues, including substance use disorders. They can help you navigate seeking support or accommodations in the workplace.

Weighing Potential Consequences

Before deciding, weighing the potential consequences based on the company’s policies and history is crucial. Consider the following questions:

Before disclosing your recovery status, it’s essential to gauge the workplace environment and culture. Understanding your company’s past handling of similar disclosures can guide your decision. If the company has a history of supportive responses, it might be safer to share. However, if the company’s track record is unfavorable, you should seek advice from a trusted mentor or HR representative first.

Before disclosing your recovery status, thoroughly review your company’s discrimination and employee support policies. If the policies explicitly protect employees in recovery, this can provide a layer of safety and reassurance. However, if the policies are vague or non-existent, consider discussing your situation with HR confidentially to understand the protections available to you.
Research your company’s history of supporting employees in recovery to assess how they might respond to your disclosure. If there’s a positive precedent, your openness could lead to receiving the accommodations and support you need. However, if the company lacks a supportive history, seeking external support or counsel may be wise before deciding to disclose.

Recovery-Friendly Policies in the Workplace

Many forward-thinking organizations are adopting “recovery-friendly” policies to support the well-being of employees who are recovering from substance use disorders. These policies show understanding and acceptance while providing necessary assistance throughout recovery.2

Examples of Recovery-Friendly Policies

  1. Flexible work schedules: Allowing employees to adjust their work hours or take time off to attend therapy sessions, support group meetings, or medical appointments related to their recovery.
  2. Confidential employee assistance programs (EAPs): Providing free, confidential counseling and resources to employees who are struggling with substance use disorders or other mental health issues.
  3. Health insurance coverage for addiction treatment: Ensuring that the company’s health insurance plans cover a range of evidence-based addiction treatment options, including inpatient and outpatient programs, medication-assisted treatment, and behavioral therapies.
  4. Mental health awareness and training: Offering workshops, seminars, or online courses to educate employees about mental health, addiction, and recovery, promoting a more informed and supportive workplace culture.
  5. Return-to-work policies: Developing clear guidelines and procedures for employees returning to work after receiving treatment for a substance use disorder, including accommodations, support, and ongoing performance expectations.
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Benefits of Recovery-Friendly Policies

By creating a safe environment for employees to share their recovery status, these policies can help:

  • Increase job satisfaction, productivity, and retention
  • Reduce stigma and discrimination associated with substance use disorders
  • Encourage employees to seek help early, before their job performance is significantly impacted
  • Foster a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture
  • Demonstrate the company’s commitment to the well-being of its employees

 

Employees who feel supported and valued are likelier to be engaged, loyal, and productive. By investing in their workforce’s health and well-being, companies can create a positive work environment that benefits everyone.

Considerations for Employers

Employers who are interested in implementing recovery-friendly policies should consider the following:

  1. Consult with legal experts to ensure that policies comply with relevant laws and regulations, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  2. Involve employees in the development and implementation of policies to ensure that they are responsive to their needs and concerns
  3. Provide training for managers and supervisors on how to support employees in recovery and handle sensitive situations with compassion and professionalism
  4. Regularly evaluate and update policies based on feedback from employees and evolving best practices in the field of workplace wellness

By adopting recovery-friendly policies, employers can create a workplace culture that supports the health and well-being of all employees, including those who are in recovery from substance use disorders.

Potential Benefits of Disclosing Recovery Status

Sharing your recovery status at work can have various benefits depending on your workplace’s context and culture.

Increased Understanding and Support

One advantage is better understanding and support from management, leading to a more empathetic relationship with your supervisors. When your employer is aware of your situation, they may be more inclined to offer guidance, resources, and emotional support to help you maintain your recovery while fulfilling your job responsibilities.

Flexible Work Arrangements and Accommodations

Another benefit is the possibility of flexible work arrangements and accommodations if your recovery requires therapy sessions, support group meetings, or adjustments to your schedule. By disclosing your status, you can have an open conversation with your employer about your needs and work together to find solutions that allow you to prioritize your recovery while still meeting your job obligations.

Promoting an Open and Inclusive Workplace Culture

Disclosing your status can also contribute to an open and inclusive workplace culture, reducing the stigma around addiction and recovery. By being open about your experiences, you inspire others who are struggling privately to seek help and support. Your transparency can also encourage a culture of openness, honesty, and support among colleagues, fostering a more understanding and compassionate work environment. However, it’s crucial to consider the potential risks before deciding to disclose.

Potential Downsides of Disclosing Recovery Status

While sharing your recovery status with your employer may be beneficial, it’s essential to consider the potential risks.3

Stigma and Misunderstandings

One risk is the perpetuation of stigma and misunderstandings about addiction recovery. Despite increased awareness about addiction as a medical condition, many misconceptions exist. You may face judgment, negative stereotypes, or insensitive comments from colleagues or supervisors who don’t fully understand the nature of addiction and recovery.

Discrimination or Biased Treatment

Another risk is the possibility of discrimination or biased treatment. While laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act protect individuals in recovery from discrimination, enforcement can be difficult, and some employees might still face subtle bias or unequal treatment. This could manifest in being passed over for promotions, excluded from important projects, or subject to increased scrutiny or criticism.

Impact on Career Progression

Disclosure could negatively impact career progression or opportunities. Some employers may unfairly perceive individuals in recovery as unreliable, unstable, or less capable, which could limit opportunities for advancement or inclusion in high-profile assignments. This conscious or unconscious bias can affect your career trajectory within the organization. When deciding whether to disclose your status, weigh the potential downsides against the benefits. Consider your workplace culture, relationship with supervisors and colleagues, and comfort level when sharing personal information. To make an informed decision that prioritizes your well-being and long-term success, seeking guidance from a trusted mentor, therapist, or employee assistance program may also be helpful.

Alternatives to Full Disclosure

At work, you may choose to disclose your recovery status, but there are other options available to you that can provide support without drawing unwanted attention or bias.

Seeking Support Outside of Work

You can seek support from friends, family, or support groups outside of work. These groups can offer emotional support, practical advice, and a safe space to discuss your challenges without worrying about negative professional repercussions. Building a strong support network outside of work can help you manage stress, maintain your recovery, and navigate work-related challenges.

Utilizing Confidential Resources

You can also use confidential resources outside of work, such as therapists, counselors, or hotlines. These resources can provide professional guidance, support, and advice on handling work-related challenges related to your recovery. They can also help you develop coping strategies, set boundaries, and make informed decisions about your workplace disclosure.

Balancing Privacy and Self-Care

It’s crucial to balance the need for privacy with self-care and recovery. While maintaining privacy can help you avoid stigma or discrimination, it’s also important to prioritize your self-care and recovery needs. If you require workplace accommodations for your recovery, you might be able to discuss your needs with your employer without revealing the specifics of your situation. For example, you could request flexible scheduling for medical appointments without disclosing the nature of those appointments. Ultimately, the decision to disclose your recovery status should be based on your personal comfort, support needs, and the context of your workplace. Remember that everyone’s journey is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another.

How to Disclose Recovery Status Professionally

When deciding to share your recovery status, handling it professionally is important.

Choose the Right Person to Confide In

Start by choosing who to speak with. Usually, it is best to talk to your direct supervisor or HR, as they are equipped to handle this information and make necessary accommodations. However, it is also important to consider your relationship and level of trust with these individuals. You may feel more comfortable speaking with a supervisor who has shown empathy and understanding in the past.

Plan Your Message

Next, plan what to say and how much to disclose. Remember that this is a professional setting, and you don’t have to share more information than necessary. For example, you could mention that you have a health issue requiring regular appointments without disclosing details about addiction or recovery. Focus on how your recovery may impact your work and what accommodations you need to maintain your job performance.

Be Professional and Assertive

Finally, approach the conversation with professionalism and assertiveness. This is about your employee rights and well-being, so it’s important to communicate calmly and confidently. Request accommodations as needed and discuss how they can be managed within your responsibilities. Remember, you are not required to disclose anything you are uncomfortable with, and you have the right to manage your recovery to best support your health and well-being.
Working a completely honest program

Recovery Resources

If you’re on the path to addiction recovery, many resources are available to help you.

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers various resources, including a national helpline (1-800-662-HELP) for treatment referrals and information.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) also provides extensive information on different types of treatment and how to access it.
  • Consider checking out platforms like Sober Nation and In The Rooms for virtual support group meetings and recovery resources.
  • Additionally, local resources like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings can provide valuable community support.
  • Many employers also offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that provide confidential counseling and referral services for employees struggling with personal or work-related issues, including substance abuse.

 

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. By utilizing these resources and building a strong support network, you can maintain your recovery while navigating the workplace’s challenges.

Deciding whether or not to disclose personal information related to recovery at work is a significant decision and requires careful contemplation of various factors. These factors include workplace culture, legal rights, personal comfort, and the need for accommodations. It is important to prioritize one’s health and well-being above all else and seek support in the most comfortable and beneficial ways.

With the right support and resources, individuals can continue on their path to recovery and thrive professionally. Recovery is not solely about overcoming addiction but also about building a new and fulfilling life. The workplace can play a significant role in this journey, offering opportunities for growth, purpose, and connection.

Remember that you are not alone, and the future is endless. Stay strong and continue to prioritize your health and well-being. Surround yourself with people who support and encourage your recovery, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.

If you or someone you care about is dealing with addiction, we invite you to contact Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, AZ. Our treatment center is grounded in evidence-based practices and focuses on addressing the root causes of addiction to achieve lasting recovery. Our compassionate team of professionals is dedicated to helping individuals rebuild their lives and find joy and purpose in recovery.

We understand that each person’s journey to recovery is unique. We offer a range of programs and services tailored to meet each individual’s specific needs, including medical detox, residential treatment, outpatient programming, and aftercare support. Our holistic approach addresses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of addiction, helping clients develop the skills and strategies they need to maintain long-term sobriety.

If you’re ready to take the first step towards a brighter, healthier future, we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how we can support you on your journey to recovery. Together, we can help you build a strong foundation for lasting sobriety and a fulfilling life in recovery.

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Author & Reviewers

julie miller recovery writer and author
RECOVERY WRITER
Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director
CLINICAL DIRECTOR

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s treatment facilities in Arizona. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges, he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of conditions.

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