Back On Track: Employment During Recovery

Information On Discrimination Laws, Drug Testing, Interviews, And Resources

Recovering from a substance addiction can be a long, difficult road, and trying to find and keep a new job can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, by taking the time to prepare yourself and to understand your rights, you can equip yourself with all of the resources you need to find employment.

Recovering Addicts: Discrimination Laws

Under Federal civil rights laws, most recovering addicts are protected against any form of discrimination, including workplace and employment discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) all protect the rights of "individuals with disabilities," which can include anyone with "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." Although the exact outcome is always decided on a case-by-case basis, most individuals who suffer or are recovering from substance use disorders are regarded as having a disability, and are therefore protected from employment discrimination.

However, people who are currently abusing illegal substances are not protected under these discrimination laws and, should the potential employer discover this, those who are abusing illicit drugs may be legally denied employment. It should also be noted that discrimination laws define "discrimination" as treating someone less favorably solely because of a disability. Employers may still harbor unjust perceptions, or choose not to employ you based on actions or events indirectly related to your addiction.

Drug Testing

Employment drug testing laws vary at the state level. Depending on where you live, employers may have a right to drug test any potential applicant and refuse consideration to those who test positive for any illicit substances. If you are currently abusing illegal drugs, even if you are presently engaged in a rehabilitation program, you may still be legally denied employment. Contact an attorney to learn more about the laws in your state.

Preparing Yourself

If you've had experience in a specific field, consider refreshing your skills and doing some research to see how much the industry has changed. If you are new to the workforce or want to transition to a new career area, consider your interests, do some research, and determine whether education or training are possibilities before beginning the application process.

Even if you've had experience in the recent past, it's a good idea to create a new resume, do some research in your ideal field, and get a feel for what you can expect. There are many organizations and support groups that can help you through this step of the process.

How To Present Yourself In An Interview

First, know your rights and be as honest as possible. You should not necessarily volunteer information, but upon inquiry, do not lie about any previous habits or actions, even if you feel they may lower your chances of being hired. If a potential employer finds out you have lied, in most cases you will immediately be removed from consideration. However, it is not legal for an employer to ask whether a job applicant has ever been addicted to alcohol or drugs, or whether an applicant has ever received treatment through a substance abuse recovery program.

Acknowledge your past mistakes, and put an emphasis on your recovery and your hopes for the future. Mistakes of the past are not an indication of future success, and you'll want to make sure your potential employer knows how committed you are to turning your life around and getting a fresh start.

Outside Assistance

Fortunately, you aren't alone in trying to find employment during addiction recovery. There are a number of nonprofit organizations and other groups that are dedicated to providing support and guidance to recovering addicts who are seeking a new job and a fresh start.

  • America in Recovery promotes and facilitates the hiring of recovering addicts and prior felons, offering platforms for both prospective employees and employers to find good matches and form a new professional relationship.
  • Springwire's Community Voicemail offers free personal voicemail for anyone in crisis or in transition that needs a reliable phone number to find work or help. The program has expanded to include links and guidance for housing and jobs.
  • The National H.I.R.E Network is dedicated to providing resources for recovering addicts and individuals with criminal records to find and keep new jobs, including community-based organizations and agency referrals.
  • Most communities have local programs that promote or facilitate employment during or immediately after recovery. Contact your nearest vocational rehabilitation office, which is likely a part of your state employment office, for more information.

Although finding employment after recovering from an addiction might seem overwhelming at first, working to understand the landscape and staying optimistic can help make that new job a reality.