Skip to main content

Navigating Work Rights with Opioid Use Disorder: A Simple Guide

Discrimination at School or Work

This guide will help you understand your workplace rights if you are facing challenges at work while dealing with Opioid Use Disorder.

This guide will help you understand your workplace rights if you are facing challenges at work while dealing with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, is a set of rules that ensure fairness for everyone. If someone is dealing with OUD, the ADA steps in to make sure they're treated fairly at work. The ADA makes sure the person can keep their job without facing difficulties because of their situation.

Additionally, the ADA ensures that the person gets the necessary support while they're on the path to recovery. Think of it as providing a helping hand, ensuring they have everything they need to heal properly.
 

Is OUD protected under the ADA?

The ADA protects people in recovery from OUD who are not using substances illegally. This protects them from unfair treatment from businesses, employers, and government agencies.

The ADA protects you from unfair treatment throughout all employment practices:

  • Job application procedures
  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Training
  • Pay
  • Promotion
  • Benefits
  • Leave

You have the right to have a workplace free of harassment because of your disability. An employer cannot fire or discipline you for asserting your rights.

The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division lists examples of discrimination against individuals with OUD:

  • An employer fires an employee because it finds out the employee completed treatment for a previous addiction to prescription opioids.
  • An employer fires an employee because it mistakenly believes the employee has OUD, simply because the employee uses opioids legally prescribed by a doctor to treat pain from an injury.

Workplace Testing for Substance Use

Employers are allowed to have policies to test for substance use.  Those policies must be reasonable.  

If an individual in recovery tests positive for opioids and it is due to medication legally prescribed as treatment, that person may not be denied or fired from a job from using their medication. There are exceptions if the person cannot do their job safely or effectively, or are disqualified under another federal law.

Telling Your Employer about Opioid Use Disorder

If you are thinking about telling your boss if you have Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), it's important to know that sharing this information could be helpful or could bring some challenges.

It might be good to tell your boss because they could understand your situation better and offer support. But it could also cause some problems, like people treating you differently.

Asking for Help at Work

Asking for support at work while recovering from OUD involves open communication and understanding your rights. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Know Your Rights: Understand your rights under the ADA. OUD can be considered a disability, and the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disabilities in the workplace.
  2. Choose the Right Time and Place: Schedule a private meeting with your supervisor or HR representative. This ensures a confidential and focused discussion.
  3. Be Honest and Open: Clearly communicate your situation. Explain that you are in recovery from OUD, and share any necessary details about your treatment plan.
  4. Discuss Accommodations: If needed, talk about reasonable accommodations that might support your recovery. This could include a flexible schedule, temporary adjustments to your duties, or other modifications that won't negatively impact your work, but can help you during the recovery process.
  5. Highlight Your Commitment to Work: Emphasize your dedication to your job and assure them that you're taking steps to manage your recovery responsibly.
  6. Request Confidentiality: If you're uncomfortable with others knowing about your situation, request the information be kept confidential. Your employer is generally required to respect your privacy regarding medical conditions.
  7. Seek Guidance from HR: If you encounter any difficulties, or if you are unsure about your rights and how to approach the situation, consider seeking guidance from your company's human resources department.

Remember, the goal is to create a supportive work environment that allows you to balance your recovery with your professional responsibilities. Open communication and understanding your rights can help facilitate this process.
 

Going Back to Work After Getting Help

Having a plan for coming back is like having a roadmap to help you stay on the right track. It's important because it helps make sure that things go smoothly and that you can do your job well.

Remember, you have the right to request a reasonable accommodation for your disability at any time. Reasonable accommodations can include things such as providing a quieter workspace to reduce distractions, or time off for treatment.

Here's a simple example of a back-to-work plan after receiving help for OUD:

  1. Talk to your healthcare provider: Discuss your readiness to return to work and any ongoing support or accommodations you may need.
  2. Communicate with your boss: Let your boss know about your return date and initiate a conversation about your plan.
  3. Consider a phased return: Start with reduced hours or lighter duties initially to ease back into your regular schedule.
  4. Flexible schedule: Request flexibility in your work hours if needed, especially in the early stages of returning.
  5. Identify a support network: Let your coworkers know about your situation if you're comfortable, and inform them about any specific ways they can support you.
  6. Discuss workplace accommodations: Talk to your boss or HR about any adjustments that could make your transition smoother, such as modified work hours or tasks.
  7. Regular meetings: Schedule regular check-ins with your boss to discuss your progress, challenges, and any necessary adjustments to your plan.
  8. Utilize resources: If your workplace has an Employee Assistance Program, explore the available resources for additional support and guidance.
  9. Implement self-care routines: Incorporate strategies like regular breaks, mindfulness techniques, or other self-care practices to manage stress.
  10. Continue treatment: If you have ongoing treatment or therapy, make sure it fits well with your work schedule. Communicate any potential conflicts with your employer.

Remember, this plan is just an example, and the specifics will be different based on individual needs and workplace policies. It's important to customize the plan to suit your situation, and talk with your healthcare provider and employer for the best outcome.

Reporting Discrimination

If you feel like you have experienced discrimination, you may file a complaint with the Department of Justice or file a private lawsuits under the ADA.  The following information is provided by the Department of Justice:

Information about filing an ADA complaint with the Department is available here.

More information about the ADA is available by calling the Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 833-610-1264 (TTY), or accessing its ADA website at ADA.gov.

Complaints about a state or local government’s programs, services, or activities relating to the provision of health care and social services can also be filed with the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (HHS OCR). Information about filing an HHS OCR complaint is available on the HHS website, by email at OCRMail@hhs.gov, by phone at 1-800-368-1019, or at 1-800-537-7697 (TTY).

Complaints about employment discrimination (called “charges”) on the basis of disability can be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Information about filing an EEOC charge is available at eeoc.gov or 800-669-4000, 800-669-6820 (TTY), or 844-234-5122 (ASL Video Phone). Additional EEOC resources regarding employees and opioid use include:

Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against under the ADA and would like to file a complaint should file as soon as possible. For instance, there are specific filing deadlines for a charge of employment discrimination, either 180 days or 300 days from the date of the alleged discrimination, depending on the jurisdiction where the charge is filed.

Conclusion

Knowing your rights and getting support is important when working with Opioid Use Disorder. Legal aid programs can help with the following civil legal issues related to opioid use:

  • Child Custody and Visitation
  • Divorce and Property Division
  • Employment Issues
  • Discrimination Claims
  • Debt and Bankruptcy
  • Housing and Eviction
  • Family Law Disputes
  • Contractual Disputes
  • Expungements and Non-Disclosures

Related Articles