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Addiction in the workplace can be a big problem for both the employee and the employer. It may lead to lower production for the company and could even get the employee fired. For many business owners, it may be easier to keep an experienced employee rather than try to find and train a new one. So if their employee goes to a partial hospitalization program or other treatment program and gets sober, it is worth it to take them back on, but there is a fear that the employee could relapse. In order to protect the company, some businesses will use a return to work agreement.
A return to work agreement, also called a last chance agreement or even a firm choice agreement, is a legal contract between the recovering addict and their employer about drug and alcohol use in the workplace. A return to work agreement is usually implemented when an employee returns to the company after substance abuse treatment. While the exact make-up of a return to work agreement after rehab will vary, many will prohibit the use of drugs or alcohol on the job or at the workplace. Some will outline other expectations and requirements as well. These documents often include consequences for violating the agreement, which may give the employer grounds to fire the employee.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) considers a substance use disorder a disability and may be able to protect an employee’s job while they are in treatment. This means that employers cannot discriminate against someone who is in an outpatient program or participating in another form of treatment for their addiction. It does not protect someone who is currently engaging in illegal drug use, but it may protect those who are in recovery and no longer using these drugs. The ADA also prevent employers from discriminating against people who have a history of drug addiction so long as they are still sober.1 While the ADA focuses on discrimination and protecting the employee, the return to work agreement focuses on ensuring that the employee remains sober and protects the employer.
While a return to work agreement can protect the employer, it can also keep the recovering addict accountable and help ensure that they stay on the right track after treatment. That being said, relapse is a part of the recovery process for many, so a return to work agreement after substance abuse treatment can sometimes be problematic. Depending on the exact terms of the agreement, it could spell trouble for your job. It is important to discuss your options and get clarity on the terms before signing the agreement.
Addiction is a unique experience for everyone, so your return to work agreement after rehab should be specific to you. If you are in recovery, you may want to get your recovery team involved in this contract if possible, to set realistic expectations. This involvement can ensure that everyone is on the same page. Your company may not have a lot of experience with these agreements or understand addiction in the way that your recovery team does. If you believe that you have been unlawfully fired or have legal concerns regarding a return to work agreement, consult an attorney.
At Banyan Chicago, we help people find lasting sobriety so that they can go back to work and be productive members of society.
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