Addiction History and Knowing Your Rights

After rehab, you may be worried about how your addiction history may affect the ability to get a job, housing, or even apply for a mortgage. Reintegrating back into real life and dealing with these concerns may feel overwhelming, but there is hope. Below is vital information on federal laws designed to protect and support you while re-adjusting to post-recovery life. 

Workplace Protection

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are both laws that prohibit employers from refusing to give a job to a qualified applicant with a disability, and substance abuse is considered a disability under both statutes. However, the same laws require that a job applicant must have a diagnosed substance use disorder to gain legal protections. For example, a person needs a doctor’s note proving they have a condition that requires ongoing treatment. They also need proof of completed addiction treatment to be legally covered by the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. 

Important To Note:

  • Past casual recreational drug use does not apply to these laws, and current illegal drug use could be used as a reason for not getting a job. 
  • Reasonable accommodations are given under both laws, such as allowing time off for drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs and services. However, if an employer can legally prove that the past substance use and required time off for post-rehab treatment could significantly interfere with job functions (as well as add financial costs), a case could be made for denying an offer of employment. 
  • An employer may discharge someone whose use of alcohol or drugs adversely affects job performance. It’s essential to review both laws (as well as any by-laws) before applying for a job. 
  • Review other anti-discrimination laws and employment rules that your employer creates and enforces. Your human resources department or employee handbook is a great place to begin this research. The ADA and Rehabilitation Act does apply to most private organizations that receive financial assistance from the government, which is most of the jobs in the U.S. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  

The government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers resources for people with past addiction to understand what employers can and cannot ask them in regards to their past issues with substance use. According to the EEOC, “An employer may not ask job applicants if they have a disability. An employer may ask job applicants whether they can perform the job and how they would perform the job with or without reasonable accommodation.” These provisions can be a little complicated for someone in post-rehab treatment. For example, an employer is allowed to ask an applicant about previous addiction, but only if the employer is not trying to get information on the disability (the substance use disorder/addiction). The distinction between the two instances is very thin, so getting information from the EEOC beforehand is crucial to understanding your rights in the workplace.

The Fair Housing Rights Act and Addiction

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) treats disability in the same way that the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act in that it covers past addiction. The FHA “protects people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities. Some protections apply to federally-assisted housing.” The FHA  prohibits discrimination concerning the rental, sale, and financing of housing based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. 

Important to Note: 

The FHA does not prohibit landlords from refusing or denying housing to tenants who are actively using illegal drugs or who have been convicted of illegally distributing or manufacturing drugs. However, the denial has to be based on factual, documented information. If the refusal has no credibility and is only based on suspicion that past drug use would cause such problems, the landlord would be in violation of the Fair Housing Act. It is essential to review the FHA rules and guidelines.

Additional Helpful Information

Every state has an agency responsible for enforcing state anti-discrimination laws. Many cities have them as well, so do your research. A website that may also be helpful for workplace and housing law information can be found in the Know Your Rights webinar series provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This webinar helps individuals understand their rights when it comes to the workplace, housing, and other forms of discrimination against people with alcohol or drug histories.

Your Rights Matter

Thanks to these federal laws, you have the right to get the services, housing, and job you need to start a new life in recovery. Knowledge is power and doing your research, knowing your rights, and becoming armed with the correct information can give you the added support you need to get your life back on track. Remember, even with an addiction history, you are eligible for the same rights as anyone else and you matter. 

Silver Lining Recovery is also ready to help. We offer post-rehab services such as SMART Recovery and 12-Step programs that can provide the necessary skills, support, and ongoing tools to keep you focused on your sobriety. If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance use disorder or addiction, we also offer intensive outpatient services and affordable outpatient treatment. Please reach out to Silver Lining Recovery at 1-833-GROWTH. We are here to help keep you on the path to a healthy, sober, and productive future filled with endless possibilities.

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