The job hunt is hard enough for most people. However, people who have struggled with addiction, there can be another obstacle: whether or not to tell potential employers about past drug use and/or a stint in rehab. As with most things in life, the answer is not as straightforward as it may seem. Furthermore, there are laws and regulations in place to protect your civil rights. Here’s a closer look at the issue, along with some things to keep in mind when applying for jobs.
Understanding Your Rights
As a person who has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and undergone treatment, you may fear that your past substance abuse issues will continue to detrimentally impact you. The good news? Several federal and state laws exist to help ensure that you are treated fairly despite your history, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment. “An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment,” according to its guidelines.
While the ADA does not specifically delineate all of the covered impairments, past substance abuse may qualify. According to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), qualified individuals include people who have been successfully rehabilitated and no longer illegally use drugs, people who are currently in rehab and no longer use drugs, and those who are falsely regarded as illegally using drugs.
It’s important to note, however, that employees and job applicants who are “currently engaging” in the illegal use of drugs do not qualify as individuals with disabilities, according to the USCCR. Also excluded from protection are people with disabilities who pose “a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”
Navigating the Job Application Process
We’ve covered that the ADA seeks to ensure that recovering addicts are treated fairly in the job application process. However, you may still have concerns about disclosure. Knowing what potential employers are allowed to ask may shed further light on the issue.
According to LawInfo.com, “if you are interviewing for a job, your prospective employer cannot even ask you about any substance abuse treatment that you might have undergone in the past. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against job applicants who have a history of substance abuse or treatment for substance abuse. Similarly, government job placement or training centers, such as unemployment offices, cannot discriminate against you due to your history of substance abuse or treatment.”
Additionally, any information you do disclose is completely confidential. “If your employer needs information about your treatment for the purposes of FMLA or medical insurance, your employer cannot disclose any of this information without your consent. Also, if employment-related drug testing reveals legally prescribed medications in your system, such as methadone, your employer cannot disclose this information, or punish you for it,” continues LawInfo.com.
Ultimately, the decision regarding how much to disclose rests with the individual and may vary from person to person. In evaluating the pros and cons of disclosing substance use and abuse, Chron.com advises, “Even if you’ve sought treatment in a rehabilitation facility and successfully kicked the habit, you run the risk of being judged on your past behavior, rather than your future aspirations. However, if you feel compelled to answer, be candid about your experience and give the interviewer concrete examples to show your improvement and desire to follow drug-free workplace rules. You could even ask for a trial period to demonstrate your capabilities.”
Adds FlexJobs.com, “It’s not necessarily a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ scenario. There are several points at which you could address your recovery. You could choose to disclose your experiences in a cover letter or application, open up during an interview, wait until after you’ve been hired, or opt against sharing entirely.”
Whatever you decide to do, keep in mind that the law is on your side. Remember: your history of substance abuse does not define you as a job applicant. Rather, what you bring to the table as a candidate does. To that end, be sure to focus on your strengths as an applicant, to prepare for questions about gaps in your resume, and to consider your own wants and needs when applying for jobs.
Getting hired and keeping a job ultimately hinges on treatment and recovery. If you’re struggling with substance abuse and looking to regain control of your life, Harris House is a leading drug rehab in St. Louis. Contact us today to learn about our substance abuse treatment programs.