How do I get short-term disability without losing my job?
July 25, 2008 5:34 PM   Subscribe

I need extended rehab for alcohol. How do I approach HR without losing my job?

I have been in about 6 rehabs and my sobriety would last for a short time the longest stretch without any alcohol has been about 3 months. My doctor and I both think that more than detox and intensive out-patient is needed. We do agree that detox is needed, but what I really need is a 28 day or more program.

Now, I have been at my job for about 7 months. I really, really love my job. It is probably the best place for me to be. But my addiction is affecting my work. I am well liked and generally do a good job but as I have said, my work is being affected.

We have the luxury of unlimited sick days but after 5 days you need a note from my doctor that puts me on disability and my employer offers Short-Term Disability for up to 90 days.

So I don't know if I need to be out for 5 days and then have my doc write me a note, or does my doc write me a note?

I have already started the ball rolling on getting into detox by talking to my insurance company, and am trying to find a longer care facility.

Please help. I am really serious about getting better and I think I have the perfect opportunity to get the help I need.

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you approach your HR and simply ask them about filing for disability/FMLA leave? Simply state that the condition is a very private and personal matter. Alternatively look for an employee handbook or even contact your disability insurance provider.

Disability filing at most larger companies is handled by a third party agency. As a supervisor when I had people go out for disability I had literally zero involvement. I was informed by the insurance carrier that the employee would be out on disability from x to y date. Of course you do need to have a discussion with your supervisor however a simple statement "I have a very serious medical condition that will require me to go out on STD however I don't feel comfortable discussing the specifics" would be ideal.

More progressive companies also tend to offer employee assistance programs to deal with these issues and the stigma is significantly less nowadays as alcoholism is looked upon as a real medical condition.
posted by Octoparrot at 5:57 PM on July 25, 2008

Does your employer have an Employee Assistance Program?

If so, that is your first step before Human Resources. Most progressive EAPs are completely private in nature and won't even discuss your treatment with your immediate superior if you don't want them to.

If not, most likely your employer will be mostly understanding of your predicament and applaud your desire for recovery. Unless you have dealt with them in bad faith about your drinking in the short period you have been employed, they will want you to improve your long-term health outlook. Nor do they want to waste the training they have provided you by terminating you for being a drunk.

Congratulations for recognizing your situation and wanting to do something about it. You have taken the first step. I am a recovering alcoholic. Email is in profile. Feel free any time.
posted by netbros at 5:58 PM on July 25, 2008

Go to your HR department now and tell them that you will be entering the hospital for a month or more, and ask when and to whom you should deliver your doctor's note letting them know the dates that you will be out of work. Do as much as you can before you leave work to ease the transition for those who will be taking over your duties while you are away. Your HR department should be able to advise you about how to follow procedure without needing to know the details of your treatment.

Also, don't feel obligated to answer questions about why you'll be out. Just tell people that you're getting medical treatment for a chronic but not life-threatening condition, that it's private, and that you prefer not to talk about it. Odds are that most people will assume that it's either a mental illness, something reproductive/sexual, or that you're lying about it being life-threatening and you have cancer. There will be rumors, but don't let them stand in your way.

I have some experience with medical leave, so if you want to talk more privately, mefi mail me.

Good luck! It sounds like you're on the right track towards recovery, and I wish you all the best.
posted by decathecting at 6:02 PM on July 25, 2008

It's going to be tough. You don't seem to qualify (assuming you're in the US) for the Family and Medical Leave Act of up to 12 weeks leave.

Employees are eligible to take FMLA leave if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months, and have worked for at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months, and work at a location where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:02 PM on July 25, 2008

First, congrats on trying to get sober. Awesome for you.

Second, you sound like you are in the good position for this: you have a company that lets you go on short-term disability after 5 sick days out of the office. If your company is like one I worked at, your actual boss and co-workers will never know the reason. Is there a Health Services office at your company? That's who you work through.

Yes, you take 5 sick days off. During that time, you have your doctor contact the health services department with info about your condition and the length of time you'll be out on STD. Then health services lets your boss know you'll be out, but not what for.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 6:02 PM on July 25, 2008

Stewriffic, the FMLA only lays out the minimum medical leave that employers are required to give under federal law. Employers are welcome to have much more liberal leave policies than that, and many do. The OP already says that her/his employer gives much more leave than is required by federal law, so s/he should be just fine.
posted by decathecting at 6:09 PM on July 25, 2008

My point was more about the law than the company policy. The FMLA makes it illegal for a company to fire you. When I used the FMLA a number of years ago, I was terrified that I'd be fired. It was a relief to learn about FMLA. I suppose I was projecting my own past fears here.

OP, I am very very glad you're doing what you need to do for you. Whatever happens with your job because of your this, your health in the long term is way more important. Having the STD coverage is a very good thing.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:21 PM on July 25, 2008

If you live in California, a leave of absence for alcohol treatment may be legally protected.

First, under Labor Code section 1025, "Every private employer regularly employing 25 or more employees shall reasonably accommodate any employee who wishes to voluntarily enter and participate in an alcohol or drug rehabilitation program, provided that this reasonable accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer."

Second, under Government Code section 12940(a) and (m), employers with 5 or more employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations -- which may include leaves of absence for treatment and recovery -- to their employees.

The federal ADA also requires reasonable accommodations, which again may include leaves for treatment and recovery. The federal ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees. Under the ADA, and particularly in some jurisdictions, it is difficult to demonstrate that a person with alcoholism is a "person with a disability."

These three laws do not require, as does the federal FMLA, an employer with 50 or more employees, one years' seniority on the job, 1250 hours worked in the past 12 months, etc.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:09 PM on July 25, 2008

It may depend where you are, but, I've just gone though the same process.

HR gave me a form for short-term disability, the doctor I was seeing at the time filled it out, charged me a nominal fee for her time, I returned the form to HR, or it might have been to the insurance company itself, I don't recall at the moment.

One thing I would recommend is NOT to divulge the reason to your company. It is between you, your doctor, the insurance company who should keep it confidential, and your treatment center. While on short-term disability, the insurance company should be covering your salary, your company need not know.

Best of luck. The addiction crept up on me. It's only alcohol, didn't expect it.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:36 AM on July 26, 2008

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