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Did you know? People in recovery are protected by Americans with Disabilities ACT

Have you ever worried about telling your boss. especially after coming out of treatment, that you need flexible hours for the next 2 months to attend your IOP? How about needing to see a for therapist in the middle of the day? Or leaving work early to attend a recovery support group? How about fearing you not going to land that new job because of your employment gaps?  Most of us faced these challenges coming into recovery. Trying to balance work, family, treatment, and recovery, still being full of guilt and shame and dealing with depression, anxiety, etc., That was hard, that was really hard.  

And for me, first not having a job, then looking for one worried about my criminal record, then landing a job and not knowing how to fit my IOP into the schedule, etc, etc. So so stressful.  And that of course was because I would have never dared to tell a soul at work that I am a person in early recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, forget asking my employer for recovery support, not a chance.

But if I knew then what I know now ... I have rights but till recently I didn’t even know. Most people DON’T KNOW! WTF! If you don’t like to read, here are the cliffnotes:

Person in recovery from substance use disorder, is considered as an individual with a disability, who is protected by Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and employers are prohibited to discriminate against such individual on the bases of their disability,

Don’t believe me? Here are some details. When you’re done reading, don’t assume others know, so PLEASE do share with others,

Apr 1, 2021 – OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY (ONDCP) – Biden-⁠Harris Administration Announces First-Year Drug Policy Priorities. All priorities certainly important, but one of them caught my attention – Priority #6 specifically part stating  “Advance Recovery-Ready Workplaces”, so let’s take a look what it says:

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 provides some protections for people with substance use disorders, employers are often reluctant to hire a person with a history of substance use disorder. This reluctance is often based on misconceptions and fears, negative attitudes, and even beliefs that discrimination against people with substance use disorder is acceptable. The current economic crisis, coupled with the overdose epidemic, requires the public and private sectors to work together to develop a workforce prepared to meet today’s challenges

Seriously, this is HUGE. The fact that the Whitehouse has put this in writing, and finally admitted that there is an issue, that we often are treated like damaged goods or are simply dismissed. Or better yet, we are considered UNFIT because of our criminal records lingering for years, totally killing any chance on better future because employers won’t hire us! All real, all true!  Ok, so let’s see what they are planning to do about it….

Biden-Harris Administration will work through ONDCP to coordinate with other White House components and the interagency to:

  1. Identify ways in which the federal government can remove barriers to employment and create employment programs for people in recovery from addiction;
  2. Conduct a landscape review of existing programs, and subsequently conduct outreach to State and local governments, employers, and members of the workforce. This outreach could include offering grant opportunities that support recovery in the workplace and remove hiring and employment barriers, and providing recommendations to ensure all communities (including rural and underserved areas) have access to the programs
  3. Identify a research agenda to examine existing recovery-ready workplaces

Sound promising, right? I haven’t seen anything come out yet as a result, but definitely curious about #1.  Public sector can probably be influenced more so than private, but tax/grant incentives are always good motivators. My worry is stigma.  People are still afraid to be be negatively impacted by being open about their recovery. And unless the employers prove they do care, most will continue to be silent. Period.

Now, this is important!!! Please read this!!! Seeing ADA mentioned in the above, Drug Policy Priorities announcement, I went digging and reading bunch of stuff on ADA, and here is what I found:

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act – prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

  1. A person who is an alcoholic is an “individual with a disability” under the ADA.
  2. Persons addicted to drugs, but who are no longer using drugs illegally and are receiving treatment for drug addiction or who have been rehabilitated successfully, are protected by the ADA from discrimination on the basis of past drug addiction
  3. ADA prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
  4. Employers may not ask job applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability
  5. An employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant
  6. An employer generally does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation unless an individual with a disability has asked for one – this is where stigma and our silence hurts us the most!  

So, if you just got out of rehab and need to continue with IOP or maybe your further in your recovery, but you continue to go to therapy and/or recovery support meetings, IT IS YOUR RIGHT by law and your responsibility to do what’s needed for your recovery, and ask your employer for special accommodations, such as flexible work schedule or returning to work part time or even telecommuting. Also, if you have employment gaps or maybe irregular employment history, you as a person with disability are protected by ADA and an employer cannot discriminate against you for something that was caused by your disability.

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503) is another law that protects the employment rights of job seekers and employees with disabilities. Individuals in recovery from substance use disorders, who are not currently engaged in the illegal use of drugs, are regarded as having a disability and are therefore protected by Section 503. Today, millions of Americans are in recovery and are no longer misusing drugs. Federal contractors covered by Section 503 cannot discriminate against individuals on the basis of this disability. Further, federal contractors must take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities.

  1. Section 503 is a law that prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment against individuals with disabilities and requires employers take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote, and retain these individuals.
  2. Under Section 503 individuals who previously misused drugs may be considered qualified individuals with disabilities if they are no longer engage in the illegal use of drugs and either have been successfully rehabilitated or are participating in a supervised rehabilitation program.
  3. If you are a qualified individual with a disability based on your being in recovery from a substance use disorder, you cannot be denied employment, demoted, fired, paid less, harassed, or otherwise treated differently in the terms, conditions, and privileges of your employment based on that disability if you are no longer engaged in the illegal use of drugs.
  4. If you need an accommodation, you should be prepared to provide your employer with enough information to show that you have a disability. You only need to provide pertinent information to request an accommodation.

What do ya think? Is your employer supportive of your recovery? If yes, tell me about it? If no, definitely tell me about it.

Also, there is another huge issue, bigger and even more complex. Many employers do have zero drug tolerance policy where an employee may be terminated if he or she is found to have used drugs or alcohol during work hours and even before or after as well. SAMHSA reported that 40 million of Americans are currently struggling with SUD with 70% of them being employed. Those employees not covered by ADA …. that’s a topic for another day, In the meantime, if you’re struggling, get your ass into treatment, join us on the recovery journey and take advantage of ADA benefits!

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