How Can I Keep My Job If I Go into Mental Health Rehab?
How Can I Keep My Job If I Go into Mental Health Rehab?
Taking time off to seek out treatment for mental health can be intimidating. Today, nearly 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health disorder. Of that over 51 million U.S. Adults with a mental illness, less than 65% got help. For men, that rate falls to less than 50%, often because men are labelled as “providers” who have to work, feed their kids, and take care of their family. Seeking mental health rehab becomes more complex when your disorder overlaps with other serious problems, such as substance use disorder. Asking your boss for time off to treat addiction might feel like a death sentence for your job. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be and you can get the treatment you need and keep your job.
While mental health awareness is rising in the U.S., many of us still face stigma, the pressure to work, and the inability to take time off for mental health treatment. Despite that, the protection we need to do so is written into law, giving nearly everyone the freedom to exercise legal rights, take time off, and seek out treatment. Learning how to properly exercise those rights, what you have to disclose, and why can help you to keep your job, even if you’re taking month off work.
Your Rights to Mental Healthcare
While mental health, especially depression and anxiety, are still heavily stigmatized in the U.S., they’re well understood problems. Your right to seek out treatment for disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolar, obsessive compulsive, and substance use is protected under acts such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Understanding your rights under each of these Acts will allow you to navigate the workplace to request the time off you need, without losing your job.
Family and Medical Leave Act– The FMLA allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious health problems including depression, anxiety, bipolar, obsessive compulsive, schizophrenia, substance use, and other disorders. However, you normally have to prove through a doctor’s note and sometimes through a company doctor verification that you need this treatment.
Your employer is not allowed to ask about your medical or personal life. Anything you discuss with a company doctor must legally remain with the company doctor.
You are not legally required to disclose any information, whatsoever. If you have a doctor’s note, you are legally entitled to this time off. Seeing a company doctor will speed things up, especially if this is written into your contract.
You are not required to disclose what treatment you are seeking, for what reasons, or any personal details. Simply that you are seeking medical treatment and its duration meets the letter of the law.
The non-disclosure clauses allow professionals to seek out mental health rehab without facing stigma or possibly losing clients. It also allows you to seek out substance abuse rehab for dual diagnosis without risking your job in the case of a morality or ethics clause in your contract. Additionally, many workplaces provide paid sick leave. If you need more time than the FMLA allows, it’s perfectly legal to take FMLA leave and then your paid sick leave, or vice versa.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – The ACA defines many disorders, including mental health and substance abuse, as temporary or permanent disabilities. The Act also defines that you have a medical right to seek out rehabilitation treatment for many disorders. Your employer cannot legally prevent you from seeking out this treatment by, for example, denying you time off. Similarly, the ACA resulted in more employers offering mental health assistance as part of Employee Assistance Programs (EPAs), in more medical facilities offering free mental health screening, and in insurance companies being required to provide mental healthcare coverage.
Americans with Disabilities Act – The ADA explicitly defines that your employer cannot fire you following a diagnosis of mental health disorder, substance use disorder, or similar. However, if your contract is set to end, you have a month-to-month contract, or otherwise are not legally tied to your employer, this may not be the case. Your employer cannot fire you for a disability like a mental health disorder, but they can simply refuse to renew a contract.
It’s always a good idea to read through your contract, review employee policies, and make use of any programs or aid which your employer might have. Here, you can normally find assistance through the employer’s HR portal.
EAP – Employee Assistance Programs are common, especially with large companies. Review what your company offers, how you can take advantage of it, and what assistance it offers. Some offer simple access to counselors and 12-Step programs. Others offer funding, provide different work schedules to meet your needs, and intensive reintegration programs once you come back to work.
Policies – Your contract might offer special stipulations to how and when you can take time off. It’s important to review these. Look at how many paid sick days you get, how many unpaid sick days you can request, and how to start a request for this. You should also be able to check if you have to verify a diagnosis or need for medical treatment with a company doctor to proceed, which gives you the information you need to do so without delaying your treatment.
Opening a Discussion
Most employers are invested in having dedicated, healthy, and engaged workers. A mental health problem can severely inhibit your ability to be productive in any environment. Outlining your need for mental health rehab as an aspect of being able to work and contribute to your company in a positive way can be an important part of getting your employer or HR onboard. However, as they are required by law to grant you leave, doing so is a formality intended to preserve your long-term relationship with the company.
If your work performance has been suffering, opening this sort of discussion, being honest about your disorder, and openly showing that you are getting help may also improve your relationship with your employer.
Eventually, most employers prefer that their employees be happy, healthy, and able to contribute. Seeking out mental health care is the fastest way to get you there. More and more organizations are incorporating mental health as a part of routine treatment, with big companies like Google even hosting in-house counselors and mental health days. Your company may not be so liberal. However, they are very likely to collaborate and assist you as you move towards recovery. Good luck with your recovery.