How To Tell Your Employer You Need Time Off For Detox Treatment

Woman anxiously plants her face in her hands

 Your Situation: You’ve got an addiction, commonly known as substance abuse. You are determined to beat it, to get well. But you will need some time off for therapy. How do you tell your boss?

A Similar Situation: After a family intervention in 1978, Betty Ford, a former First Lady of the United States, accepted the fact that she needed treatment for her addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs.  She had become a public figure in her own right, an advocate for good causes–since she and her husband, Gerald Ford, had left the White House. Thus she felt an obligation to the American people, who were her “bosses,” to explain why she was taking a time out.


Back to your situation. Wouldn’t it be great if you had a p.r. person to handle your conversation with the boss? Wouldn’t it be great too, since you need to go it alone, if you could take a great gulp of air, and let the words just tumble out?

There is too much at stake here to rush in, speak extemporaneously, and be unprepared to state your case. You need the treatment, and you need your job back when the treatment is done.

Make a plan

In advance, you might wish to make up your mind to keep cool, but not detached. Without divulging more than necessary, or more than you’re comfortable talking about, you will then be able to calmly, in a business-like manner, inform your employer or enployers, singular or plural, or the company ‘s Human Resources personnel, that you need time off for your health.

Project Sincerity

Plan to project sincerity by emphasizing reassurances that the treatment you are undertaking will enhance your future job performance. And plan to make it clear too that you are determined to leave your current work-in-progress in good order, so it will run smoothly both while you‘re gone and on your return.


 Research Tools

A good way to start talking to your boss about the situation is by confirming expectations you garnered from your research. So start from the very beginning. Start with A.

ADA Legislation

In this case, A stands for ADA–the Americans with Disabilities Act. Familiarize yourself with it. Know your rights. Understand what protections it affords and confirm that they apply to you specifically.


Seeing your sincere and serious demeanor, chances are your bosses will be empathetic. They may have noticed something off lately in your personality or job performance.  And unless this is their first rodeo, as the saying goes, they recognized your problem.  They may have seen it before. In fact, it has been estimated that 70 per cent of people who have a substance abuse problem are employed.

Having witnessed the process in the past, it is likely your employers believe you will return better than new after your treatment. In addition, they might admire your courage for taking the bull by the horns and doing everything in your power to get clean.

Aiding 61 Million

This empathy is well expressed, on a national level, in the following Presidential Proclamation. Signed by President Trump on July 24, 2020, it reads:

“On the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we celebrate the landmark legislation that helped open the door for every person with a disability to participate fully and independently in our society.

“…It has facilitated greater opportunities for Americans with disabilities to engage in their communities, improving access to employment (and) government services… supporting the full participation of the more than 61 million Americans currently living with disabilities.”

“Disease and Mental Illness”

Question your boss to confirm your firm’s policy for handling sick employees. The key word here is “sick,” because addiction (substance abuse) has been classified as a disease and a mental illness. Under this statute, there are rules employers must follow, plus penalties, if an employee should later file suit, and win, a case of having suffered discrimination.

FMLA Guide

Another indispensable resource for benefits you must confirm is The Employees Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act. As  explained in the guide, this legislation was passed because “when you or a loved one experiences a serious health condition that requires you to take time off from work, the stress from worrying about keeping your job may add to an already difficult situation…FMLA provides unpaid job-protected leave…taken all at once…or intermittently as the medical condition requires.”

Published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the guide is now online and available for downloading. As well as the general purposes of FMLA, it answers specific questions:

  • Who can use FMLA Leave?
  • When can I use FMLA Leave?
  • How do I request FMLA Leave?
  • Communication with your employer
  • Medical certification
  • Returning to work
  • How to file a complaint

Unpaid leave

Under “Who can use FMLA,” there are guidelines that require special attention, such as how many employees the firm has,  how long you have worked there, etc. Those planning a drug/alcohol in-patient rehab, for example, may qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid, but job-protected, leave.

Length of treatment

Trying to estimate how long you might be away from your job, you have to take into account that each person is different, and there are many choices of programs, all of varying lengths. Usually the period is between 30 and 90 days. The ultimate goal is, in the words of one therapist, “not discharging you till you are ready to navigate recovery on your own.”

Types of Programs: Concierge, etc.

Depending on your needs and your budget, there are many ways to meet your goals. At the very top are concierge programs–all one on one (therapist and patient). If in-patient, the facilities might include private housing. Some might offer houses with two bedrooms and two baths, and one common living room.


Facilities may offer amenities that include massages, chiropractic physical therapy, acupuncture, yoga, exercise, meditation, as well as lectures on nutrition, art, drama and music.

Inpatient or Out

As for your therapy, you have a wide spectrum of choices: in-patient, out-patient, intensive out-patient. There also is a non-intensive out-patient program that is not as demanding, but, the sponsors insist, “still require dedication and sacrifice, awareness and accountability.” It is recommended for “patients who have completed in-patient treatment, but who need a graceful transition back into their daily lives.”

Still other treatment plans include a partial hospitalization program, which calls for staying at home but reporting to a treatment center during the day. Also available are plans that take into account special needs, circumstances and causes…family dynamics, pain, military service, and the traumatic lifestyle of first responders.

 Advance Pledges

When speaking to your boss, you might be shown a Return To Work Agreement, agreeing to routines like drug testing. You will have to sign this before leaving for your treatment.

Celebrity ‘Cheerleaders’

In addition to giving directions pointing the way along your path to a life free of addiction, online research can bring you some metaphoric cheerleaders. They are high-profile celebrities who have walked in your shoes.

“Celebrities are often seen as larger-than-life figures, but they’re human too.  Many have overcome mental, sexual, eating or substance use disorders. They have publicly struggled…and managed to turn around and lead a clean and sober life.” –Recovery Centers of America

Who Has Recovered

Actors, singers, composers, musicians, winners of prestigious awards, these celebs are “uplifting reminders that recovery is possible”: Taylor Swift, Adele, Keith Richards, Debbie Lovato, Robert Downy, Jr., Drew Barrymore, Bradley Cooper, Lindsey Lohan, Danny Trejo, Tony Curtis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Liza Minnelli.

Unforeseen Benefit

Another big name, actress Elizabeth Taylor, made headlines in 1988 by enrolling in the Betty Ford Clinic, where she met her seventh and final husband (in eight marriages, having married actor Richard Burton twice). Larry Fortensky, a handsome construction worker, later wrote he had been there “for beer,” and Elizabeth “for pills.”

Hospital Therapy

By then, the eponymous clinic had been founded by Betty Ford. But before that, back in 1978, when Mrs. Ford herself needed help, she had to enroll in the alcohol and drug abuse center at the Long Beach Naval Station hospital.

She had pioneered open speech concerning issues previously spoken about only in whispers–such as breast cancer. And then, when addressing the worldwide need–her need too–for candor about addictions, about the danger of mixing drugs and alcohol, she set a courageous example by telling her “bosses” she had to go for help.

On April 21, 1978,  THE WASHINGTON POST carried, in its National, World and Local Section, a story filed by Myra MacPherson and Donnie Radcliff under the following headline:

Betty Ford Says That She Is Addicted to Alcohol

The body of the story carried quotes written by Mrs. Ford to explain her situation. “I was overmedicating myself (for painful arthritis),” she said. “It is an insidious thing. I needed to detox myself of its damaging effects.”

She continued, “I am pleased to have the opportunity to attend (the program here). I expect this treatment and fellowship to be a solution for my problems.  I embrace it, not only for me, but all the many others who are here to participate.”


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