By Susan Finley, Ed.D., NCC
“Complete honesty is not the same thing as full disclosure.”
― Ron Brackin
When an individual seeks help for an addiction or substance use disorder, it is not surprising that other areas of that person’s life begin to shift as well. The workplace environment is no exception. Questions that may arise when considering whether to disclose an addiction in the workplace may include: “Whom should I tell?” “How much information do I share?” “Will I be fired?” “Is this confidential?” “Are there company procedures in place to help me?” “Will this affect my relationship with my employer?” and so on… Many companies and organizations do have procedures within their Human Resources Department that deal directly with drug and alcohol use. However, there is no set rule to follow when it comes to personal disclosure of one’s struggle with addiction. That is why consulting with a trusted individual, professional, or specialized department within the company prior to telling coworkers etc. is ideal.
Firstly, it is important to consider the reason for disclosure. Oftentimes when an individual gets sober, they want to share that information with others. Unfortunately, not every member of society is as enthusiastic about the process of getting clean or sober. It may not serve the person to vocalize past discretions, especially if they are newly sober. An individual should seriously consider the desired outcome when choosing with whom, and how much detail to share regarding their recovery process in the work environment. Unless one’s addiction is directly affecting their work performance, an individual may choose to share the process of getting and staying sober with personal acquaintances and mental health professionals outside the workplace. Realistically speaking, there are cases where the risk is high for disclosing one’s struggle with substances. Some common risks may include loss of job, reputation, financial, criminal, ethical, and legal action taken, etc. These potential risks are generally a direct result of abusing substances on the job. In situations such as these, the individual will want to consult with the appropriate person(s) first, setting a plan for how and when to tell their employer.
Regardless of whether the stigma towards individuals with substance use disorders and mental health challenges has lessened, many individuals still find that although no obvious prejudice may be directed towards them, an apparent change in the existing dynamic after disclosure (for better or worse) between employer and employee is not uncommon. Some companies offer employee health insurance that includes drug and alcohol treatment. An employee can take full advantage of these resources without the employer ever knowing.
There are times it is absolutely necessary to tell supervisors/bosses. These may include situations such as an inability to perform the duty of one’s job, putting the company at risk, damaging the reputation of the company, etc. In these types of situations, consulting the company’s Human Resources Department is an excellent first step for employees to discuss their substance use issues. The individual is well within their right to ask company policy, procedure, and guidance on how to seek and receive the appropriate resources. Some companies may even pay for and fully support, the employee to attend a treatment program for their addiction. An employee can research these areas of involvement and more by asking for company policy on such issues (sometimes this can be found directly on the company’s Human Resources webpage). It is not uncommon to have fears; however, a number of those fears can be addressed simply by asking the right questions. Many people find that reviewing the process of self-disclosure to an employer with a trusted therapist or counselor first helps to put worries in their proper perspective.
Remember, the ultimate goal is to get the person treatment. The decision of whether or not to disclose on the job should always favor disclosure if an individual is at risk for hurting themselves or others. It is more important to get life-saving treatment than none at all due to common fears such as losing one’s job. Obviously, the first scenario puts the individual in control of his or her own recovery by choosing to ask and receive help. The flip side, however, is that hiding one’s addiction comes with the added risk of incurring more severe issues down the line. Though it is necessary to be cautious when sharing personal information, a majority of companies have made great strides in investing in employee health and wellbeing. Therefore, if the opportunity to receive additional care covered by one’s employer is offered, an individual will want to take full advantage of that. One thing remains true: the strongest and most courageous thing a person can do is asking for help.
Susan Finley, Ed.D., NCC is an educator, published researcher, and social media consultant for therapists. She is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), Board Certified-TeleMental Health Provider (BC-TMH), and Suicide Prevention Instructor (QPR) under the National Board for Certified Counselors.
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