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Employee Assistance Program for Addiction Recovery

With an employee assistance program (EAP), a company offers voluntary assistance to employees, helping them to resolve a short-term problem.

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An EAP offers services like counseling, referrals to health professionals, and other resources for employees within the organization. The program will often address issues with mental health, including substance abuse. They can also assist an employee with other difficulties, such as financial issues and legal problems.

Employee assistance programs have numerous advantages, but they may require that the employee go outside of the company for certain services. For example, an employee struggling with addiction may be referred to a rehab center where they can enroll in medical detox and ongoing treatment.

An EAP is intended to encourage employees to reach out for help. You won’t be penalized for accessing your company’s EPA, but there are some circumstances regarding drug abuse that could potentially threaten your employment.

How an EAP Works

An EAP is a work-based voluntary program that offers free assessments, counseling, referrals, and follow-up services for employees who have certain problems.

Services are free up to a certain number of sessions, depending on the program. Employees can sometimes pay out of pocket for services once the free sessions have been used. How much you would have to pay, when you would have to pay, and other details depend on your program.

Certain types of treatments may require outside referrals like medical detox, treatment of certain psychiatric conditions, and medical procedures that require specialists.

EPAs are not designed to give medical services or take the place of traditional medical and mental health professionals. Instead, they are designed to give assistance. You will be referred to appropriate treatment resources if the EPA cannot address your situation.

How Common Are These Programs?

According to the Employees Assistance Professionals Association:

  • Over 97 percent of companies with more than 5,000 employees have an EAP.
  • About 80 percent of companies with 1,001 to 5,000 employees have an EAP.
  • About 75 percent of companies with 251 to 1,000 employees have an EAP.
  • Many smaller companies have some form of an EAP.

Advantages of Using an EAP for Addiction

Employers who provide EAPs encompass them into an overall wellness program that can offer benefits to workers who are struggling with substance abuse or other issues. There are many benefits to accessing an EPA.

  • An EAP provides the employee with a safe environment to discuss their issues regarding addiction. These programs are confidential, and the employer is not notified.
  • Employees have access to an assistance program that has a hotline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to discuss issues as they come up. Immediate assistance from the program is also available.
  • EAPs can offer resources and support needed to address substance use disorders. Employees can then avoid escalation of the problem and potential job loss.
  • EAPs offer access to important resources, including potential medical care, counseling, and peer support.
  • EAPs can help to reduce work conflicts, absenteeism, and even the cost of insurance when they address these problems early and efficiently.

FAQs About EPAs

Are There Certain Rules or Contracts?

There are generalized standards that EPAs follow.

You don’t have to be a member of your employer’s insurance program to participate in their EAP; however, you need to be employed by the company or an immediate family member of an employee to qualify for help.

EAPs may place certain demands on you regarding your substance abuse, such as not using drugs or drinking alcohol while at work. If you present a threat to another employee or person, like you threaten to hurt someone at work, the program will likely be required to notify your employer or even the police.

Other types of restrictions or rules vary from program to program. For the most part, the programs are confidential, voluntary, and designed to help you.

Can I Get Fired if I Have to Leave Work for Addiction Treatment?

Legislation protects you from being fired if you need medical attention and you must leave work. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates that employees get up to 12 weeks of unpaid, protective, leave per year if they meet certain requirements. FMLA also requires that your group health benefits must be maintained during this leave.

FMLA applies to all companies with 50 or more employees. The employee can take 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for:

  • The birth and care of a newborn child.
  • Placement of a child with them for foster care or adoption.
  • Care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.
  • Medical leave if unable to work because of a serious health condition.

Medical leave for the treatment of a substance use disorder would meet the requirement for medical leave for a serious health condition under FMLA. However, you must also meet certain requirements before FMLA applies to you:

  • You must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months.
  • You must have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months.
  • You must work in a company where there are 50 or more employees who work within 75 miles of one another.

Will I Still Get Paid if I Take Leave for Treatment?

The leave provided by FMLA is unpaid. Depending on your work contract, if you are in a union, and other factors, your employer may be required to pay you if you take leave for substance abuse treatment in some instances. However, unless it is written in your work agreement, don’t bet on it.

Can I Qualify for Disability Payments?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents you from being discriminated against by an employer due to a disability. What qualifies as a disability is defined under the law, and people who struggle with alcoholism are considered to have a disability.

However, the Social Security Administration no longer has a disability status for people with substance use disorders, and in most cases, you will not get disability payments for addiction. You might be able to get disability status for some impairments that your substance abuse caused you, but again, this can be tricky. Some of these impairments could include:

  • Liver damage.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Seizures.
  • Neurocognitive disorder (brain damage due to drug abuse).
  • Some psychiatric conditions like major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders.

The key here is that you might be able to draw disability payments for some of these conditions. However, if you are actively using drugs or alcohol and have these conditions, you will most likely not get any disability benefits. You should check with an attorney who specializes in disability issues.

Can My Employer Fire Me for My Substance Abuse Issues?

If you are actively using drugs, you are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. If your performance on the job has declined because of your substance abuse, your employer can fire you if they can prove that your performance was poor and/or your use of substances put yourself or others in danger on the job.

If you choose to go into a substance use disorder recovery program before any disciplinary action is taken, your employer will likely be unable to fire you for poor job performance.

These are all technical legal issues that can only be answered by licensed attorneys who understand these rules and limitations. If you have any questions or concerns, contact an attorney.

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