Admitting an addiction to your employer

Admitting and addiction to an employer

Admitting an addiction to your employer

There are probably only two scenarios in which your boss doesn’t already suspect you have an addiction – either you’re a remote employee, or your boss is just like you.

Otherwise, let’s assume your boss is suspicious of your off-hours activities. You may have accrued an unusual number of sick days, been caught nodding off at your desk, come to work in the same clothes you left in the night before; or there may be physical signs like severe weight loss or sunken eyes.

One aspect of living with an addiction is living in denial; hiding it from family, friends and colleagues. Most people battling an addiction did not go from having a few drinks now and again, or getting high once in a while, to a full-blown addiction overnight. It was progressive, sneaking up slowly until it became a problem.

Even when it starts to be detrimental to all aspects of our life, we may still deny that there is a problem. It’s only when we finally admit it to ourselves, recovery can begin.

Who to tell?

Next, we question who else in our life needs to know. If residential treatment is the best option for you, you’ll also have to tell your employer and this can be terrifying.

However, the only alternative is to not show up for 28 days and lose your job. The anxiety that is felt before having that conversation with your boss is probably worse than actually having the talk.

Employer’s position

Most Irish workplaces now have an alcohol and drugs policy in place and there are clear reasons for this from a health and safety perspective. Alcohol or other drug misuse may affect the ability of employers and employees to maintain a safe work environment.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act (1989) places a duty upon employers ‘to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health and safety of employees’.

Section 9 of the 1989 Act also outlines the duty of employees to co-operate with his employer and ‘to take care of his own safety, health and welfare and that of any other person who may be affected by his acts or omissions while at work’.

Drug and Alcohol Legislation

The Road Traffic Act (1961) prohibits the use of mechanical vehicles while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977 and 1984 outlines the restriction on the possession of controlled drugs. This states that it is illegal to produce, supply or be in possession of drugs covered by the act unless prescribed to the individual by a doctor. The same Act states that it is illegal to have controlled drugs on your premises; or to allow your premises to be used for the production, distribution, or consumption of controlled drugs.

Know your rights

If you are worried that you may be fired, have no fear.  Employers must make accommodations for those entering treatment programmes and hold your position for you. However, if you continue using or drinking on the job, or even off the job – and this is affecting your performance – you can be fired.

It has long been established by the Employment/Equality Tribunals that alcoholism is a disability, for which protection against less favourable treatment in the workplace is provided.

If an employee is suffering from an addiction to an intoxicant, consideration should be given to the duty of an employer to put in place appropriate measures of reasonable accommodation as are required, to enable an employee to fulfil the duties of his/her role.

While this duty does would not ordinarily extend to providing treatment, it would go so far as to imply a duty to at least afford an employee some support, including allowing time and flexibility to the employee in seeking treatment to overcome substance abuse issues, whilst keeping his/her job open.

Employers must maintain confidentiality regarding any information they receive regarding the addiction or substance abuse treatment of any of their employees. 

Talking to your employer

Now that you know some of your rights, muster up the courage to have that talk with your boss. Be honest and keep the conversation professional. Explain that you want to get help so that you can be a more effective employee.

The less changes you make in the first year of recovery, the better. Unless of course, work is on the list of ‘people, places and things’ that put you at risk for relapse.

The most common fear among employees who deal with addiction problems is the fear of losing their job. Regardless of how uncomfortable and embarrassing this may feel, you need to be aware of the fact that addiction is a condition with physical and behavioural traces. It is simply impossible to go unnoticed. Some common fears of employees include:

My reputation will be ruined

This is seldom the case. An employer needs workers that can perform well. Even high-functioning addiction sufferers still have problems with absences from work, job performance and missed assignments. Starting treatment means that the employee can return to work in the right frame of mind.

People who are still concerned about their professional reputations have a few options that they can use.If the employee has holiday time or sick days saved up, they can use these without telling their colleagues why they are away from the office. They may also ask for a leave of absence from work while they get help.

Someone else will take my job

Finding a new employee and training them costs money. It can often take months or years for a new employee to be trained to the same level as an old one. Many employers would rather wait for a person suffering with addiction to seek treatment.

Addiction treatment is a smart choice for employers because they will have a more productive employee. Studies have shown that people suffering with addiction are more loyal and productive after they have received treatment.

This will change my career

For the most part, treatment will only change a career for the better. Studies indicate that people who have undergone treatment are more likely to keep their job and many individuals go on to receive better careers. 

People will judge me when I return to work

The harshest critic many people suffering with addiction will face is themselves. Although there is a stigma attached to addiction, it is generally not as severe as most people believe. Many former addiction sufferers return to the workplace to cheers as their team members applaud their fight against addiction and recovery. The few people who judge a person’s addiction harshly will quickly forget about it as new office gossip develops. 

In addition, one person’s recovery can inspire other people in the workplace to deal with their drug addiction or personal problems.

I cannot make ends meet while in treatment

This fear is one of the only ones that should concern people suffering with addiction, but it can be managed. Any sick time or holiday days can be used, so that the person does not miss a pay cheque. Many health insurance plans will cover part, or all, of treatment costs. Some employers may also have a short-term disability policy that can help.

Powerful message

Finally, the meeting with your boss will send a powerful message if you’ve done some homework prior to the meeting.

Let your boss know that you’re aware that productivity suffers when you call in sick, or when others have to cover for you. It might also be helpful to provide your boss with some information about the brain science around addiction.

You’ll probably find a sympathetic ear with your boss. Be humble, take responsibility and express remorse. Those things will go a long way in beginning to rebuild your relationship with your employer.

Tabor Group

Tabor Group is a leading provider of residential addiction treatment services in Ireland. We provide support and care to hundreds of clients suffering from addictions to alcohol, substances, gambling and eating disorders. For more information on Tabor Group’s services click here.