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Do You Know Your Rights Around Addiction in the Workplace?

Hiding addiction is nothing new, yet it’s something that those who are struggling try to keep under wraps as long as possible. Even if an employee is able to deliver a solid job performance, there are often tell-tale signs of addiction that others pick up on. On the road to recovery, those suffering from alcohol and drug abuse will eventually need to disclose their addiction to their employer. Here’s how to navigate that process in your professional life.

Addiction is a mental disability

In Alberta, addiction is recognized as a mental disability. Section 7 of the Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against any person with regard to employment because of a physical or mental disability.

This means that employers can’t automatically terminate employees because of their addiction even if it’s creating a loss of productivity. In fact, employers are required to accommodate those employees and may encounter serious repercussions if they don’t. This is good news for anyone battling addiction. Confiding in one’s employer is one of the first steps in the right direction towards getting the assistance and support needed for addiction treatment.

Employers have a “duty to accommodate”

In order to determine how to best accommodate the employee, an employer may request relevant information from their employee. The employee is then responsible for cooperating with reasonable requests and providing information to help their employer assess the situation and determine how they will be accommodated.

Employers are also permitted to request information about whether or not the employee is fit to perform the key duties of their job, such as mental and physical functional abilities. This information would be authorized by the employee’s medical team.

However, employers seeking medical information about the employee aren’t automatically entitled to a diagnosis of the addiction. Nor are they entitled to specific information about the employee’s medical treatment, including any sort of addiction services sought.

If an employer believes that an employee may be substance-dependent, everyone involved, including the employee, the employer, and the union and/or employee representative, are responsible for addressing the issue in a respectful, collaborative and timely manner. If it’s confirmed that the employee is suffering from drug abuse or alcohol addiction, the employer has a duty to accommodate them.

Duty to accommodate means that the employer is legally obligated to take appropriate steps to eliminate discrimination resulting from a company policy, practice, or barrier that could have a negative impact on the individual suffering from the addiction.

The employer is required to accommodate up to the point where they or the organization would suffer undue hardship by doing so. Undue hardship means that the accommodation would create overly cumbersome conditions for the employer, such as damaging financial costs or serious disruption to business.

In most cases, duty to accommodate means allowing the employee to take time off from work to seek treatment, including at inpatient treatment centres. It may also require the employer to assist the employee with treatment programs when the employee returns to work, which would be done under the guidance of the employee’s medical professionals.

Know your workplace policies

In some cases, however, employees dealing with substance misuse are not treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. If an employee feels that they have experienced workplace harassment or discrimination due to their addiction, under the Alberta Human Rights Act they are able to submit a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

However, an employee can be rightfully terminated as a result of their addiction, as long as the company has a clearly outlined drug and alcohol policy. If an employer or workplace already has drug and alcohol policies in place, each and every employee must comply with these regulations. If the employee breaches this policy, they can be legally terminated due to the policy breach, not because they’re an addict.

How to talk to your employer about addiction

Now you know your rights as an employee, the next step is having the conversation with your employer. While it can seem daunting, it doesn’t need to be difficult. In fact, it’s quite likely your employer has faced similar situations before. An estimated 76% of people who suffer from substance abuse disorders are gainfully employed.

Wondering how your employer will react when they’re told of your addiction is one of the most common questions addicts ponder. Try to remember that most employers want only what’s best for their employees. Not only is it their legal responsibility to accommodate, but employers understand it’s in their best interest to be supportive. Knowing this can help alleviate some of the tension you may be feeling before approaching your supervisors.

You’ll likely feel better if you prepare in advance for the conversation. Your employer will no doubt have several questions for you, but not all the information they request needs to be disclosed. (Talking to a professional from EHN Sandstone prior to the conversation with your employer can help.) And it’s always a good idea to keep a record of the correspondence between you and your employer on this matter.

Who you choose to disclose your addiction to in the workplace is up to you. Besides your supervisor and perhaps the human resources department, nobody else needs to be told that you are struggling with an addiction disorder. If you need to take time off work and don’t wish to discuss the matter with your colleagues, don’t. If asked directly during interactions with coworkers, respond by saying that you’re taking time off for personal or family reasons – end of conversation.

What to look for in a treatment facility

Navigating your rights as an employee and choosing the best rehabilitation centre can feel overwhelming at times. There are many options to consider when evaluating which treatment centres are the best fit for you or a loved one. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to keep in mind when choosing a centre for substance abuse treatment.

1. Addiction and mental health expertise

Look for treatment facilities with not only addiction recovery experts, but those who are well versed in all aspects of mental health and recovery. This includes licensed professionals proficient in providing addiction help, but also other behavioural addictions and trauma disorders.

Workplace incidents can be traumatic events. Sharing personal information with your employer is no easy task. Initiating the conversation is often fraught with fear. It takes great courage to seek addiction help and treatment. Anyone struggling with trauma, depression or anxiety will want to seek out a treatment facility that offers integrated, specialized programs for drug and alcohol addiction along with mental health disorders and behavioural addictions such as sex or gambling addiction.

2. Fully licensed and certified medical professionals

Finding an approachable, competent, multi-disciplinary team is key to recovery. You’ll want a facility that provides full-spectrum care delivered by licensed medical professionals – including addiction certified medical doctors, psychiatrists, skilled nurses and therapists with at least a decade worth of experience.

The treatment facility should also adhere to the highest medical standards with the proper accreditations. In Canada, look for facilities under the auspices of Accreditation Canada and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Some rehabilitation centres, like those that are part of the EHN Canada network, have both licensed hospitals and accredited facilities in their network.

3. Accessibility when you need it.

Substance abuse treatment is typically needed urgently. The faster you get admitted into a treatment center, the sooner you can be on your road to recovery. Private treatment centres typically have no waitlists or very short ones compared to public facilities. Flexible lengths of stay and personalized treatment options provide the best outcomes for patients.

4. Support, safety, and aftercare

From inpatient to outpatient clinics, there are varying levels of support to consider with alcohol and drug treatment centres. Likewise, there are different types of therapy on offer. You’ll want a facility that bases their treatment off the best available research. Through evidence-based care, centres such as the EHN Canada network guide patients to addressing the root cause of their issues, all while adhering to the highest medical standards.

Ultimately, you’ll want to search out a facility that not only provides the right assistance and tools, but one where you’ll feel safe and supported during every step of recovery. See if the facility you’re researching measures patient outcomes. If so, be sure to ask about their results.

Families are also deeply affected by addiction. Find out how the centre helps families heal. Are family counselling sessions offered? Be sure to also inquire as to the regulations regarding visits and contacting people outside the treatment facility.

And Aftercare support also needs to be considered. Ask what relapse prevention skills are offered, such as a supportive alumni network.

Find out more about EHN Sandstone in Calgary

At EHN Sandstone’s inpatient recovery facility, a team of highly trained, licensed medical professionals are experienced in guiding employers and employees through this difficult time and understand the necessary processes and procedures that need to be followed in these circumstances. If you’re struggling with addiction and it is affecting your work life, we can help you and your employer navigate your road to recovery.

Call us at 587-350-6818 to speak with our admissions counsellors.

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