All workers have a right to a fair wage, a safe workplace, respect, and dignity. For people in recovery, it’s especially important to feel supported and empowered at their place of work. All workers have a right to advocate for themselves for the treatment supports they need and any accommodations that can help them return to work safely.
Rights, Protections, and Tips for Advocacy
- You cannot be discriminated against in the hiring process or on the job for having a history of opioid use disorder (OUD) or for receiving medication for OUD (MOUD). The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Act protect the rights of people with substance use disorder (SUD) in all stages of employment. This includes the application and interview, after a job offer, and on the job.
- Advocate for the workplace you need for a successful recovery. Federal law and state laws require that employers provide “reasonable accommodations” when needed to allow employees with a disability to perform their job duties. Reasonable accommodations can include:
- Job restructuring.
- Flextime for counseling, doctors’ appointments, and attending a treatment clinic.
- Permitting a leave of absence, such as for residential treatment programs.
- Know your privacy information. An employer or interviewer cannot ask questions about past illegal drug use, participation in a rehabilitation program, or extent and frequency of substance use. But employers can ask about current use of alcohol or illegal drugs.
- Keep your employment while getting treatment. Massachusetts recently updated the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. As of January 1, 2021, most Massachusetts workers will be eligible to take up to 26 weeks of paid leave per year. Here are some of the qualifying reasons for leave:
- Up to 20 weeks for a worker’s own serious health condition, like a SUD.
- Up to 26 weeks for the worker to care for a family member who is a covered service member with a serious health condition.
- Beginning July 1, 2021, eligible workers may also take up to 12 weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
- Know your workplace rights about drug testing. The National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) requires that drug-free workplaces must work with unions to negotiate how drug testing programs work, such as when tests are given and what the penalties would be.
- Know what to look for when it comes to discrimination in the workplace. It can be subtle and hard to name. Here are some examples:
- Being asked about substance use in your past during interviews.
- You are pressured to share medical information or previous substance use during the interview process or on the job.
- The person interviewing you pressures you to explain time gaps in your resume. If you have gaps in your resume due to time in treatment, the person interviewing you can ask questions about the gap, but you do not have to share that you were in treatment.
- Being asked by your employer or the person interviewing you about the frequency of past substance use. For example, they cannot ask, “How much alcohol or illegal drugs did you consume? How often do/did you drink alcohol or use illegal drugs?”
- Having a manager or supervisor change the work you do after you share information about a disability or your recovery if you did not ask for those changes.