As a recovering addict, you’ve struggled to get to this point in your recovery. You’ve come a long way, and you deserve privacy and respect—not just in terms of your fight to sobriety, but in every other area of your life. By seeking treatment, you are doing the right thing for your own health and wellbeing, and for the wellbeing of your loved ones. To help you understand your rights as a patient, here’s an overview:
You have the right to complete privacy.
A professional recovery center will not only maintain high standards when it comes to your treatment, but also when it comes to your privacy. The facility should only release documents and records pertaining to your treatment to people you have given them written permission to communicate with, such as your family physician or spouse.
Substance abuse treatment facilities must also keep your records private in order to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Treatment facilities that do not obey the federal regulations of the Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records code can be fined a maximum of $500 for a first offense and $5000 for every subsequent offense. Some facilities that do not receive federal assistance are exempt from these laws, however, so if privacy is important to you, ask each facility you are considering about their individual policies.
Keep in mind that recovery centers can disclose information about your medical records and your substance abuse treatment in emergencies and extreme cases. Examples of these situations may include if a patient breaks the law while in treatment or threatens another patient or staff member’s health or safety.
You have the right to keep your job while you are in treatment.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects you from losing your job while you are seeking or undergoing treatment for drug or alcohol abuse. This is the case as long as your disorder does not stop you from performing your job safely and adequately. In addition, the Family and Medical Leave Act entitles most employees who have had their jobs for at least a year to 12 weeks off for recovery treatment. It also prohibits employers from firing you for asking to take time off for substance abuse treatment.
In addition, the ADA states employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities to perform their jobs. In cases of substance abuse disorders, reasonable accommodations might mean switching work hours to allow the person to attend recovery treatment. However, if that accommodation causes the employer undue hardship—such as major difficulty or a significant expense—it is no longer considered reasonable.
You have the right not to be discriminated against.
Through a number of Acts, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), federal law protects many people with past and present drug and alcohol problems against discrimination. Many courts have found recovering addicts to have a “disability” protected under federal law. Whether a person has a disability is decided on a case-by-case basis. To be classified as having a disability, you must show that your addiction limits or has limited your ability to pursue major life activities. You are not protected if you are currently using substances; your alcohol or drug use poses a threat to the health and safety of others; or if your drug or alcohol use does not inhibit at least one major area of your life.
You have the right to pursue employment without discrimination.
According to the ADA, employers may not fire, refuse to hire or discriminate against potential employees with disabilities. This applies to state and local government employers and private employers with more than one employee. When substance abuse is to the level where it is classified as a “disability,” this protection applies. However, unlawful discrimination does not apply to people with drug and alcohol problems who
- are not able to do the job
- violate rules or commit a crime
- do not meet essential eligibility requirements for the job
- create a direct threat to other employees’ health or safety because of their behavior, even if the behavior results from the substance use disorder
You have the right to privacy.
Employers must keep any medical information they discover about a current or potential employee—including information about a past or present substance abuse disorder—private. This includes attendance at a substance abuse treatment center.