man signing a Return to Work agreement
Published On: March 21, 2019|Categories: Employment and Addiction|

An addiction has ripple effects on many people, not just the person using substances. As far as employers are concerned, a substance use habit can decrease productivity, strain workplace relationships and give a company a bad reputation. It can also bring up health concerns and liability issues if an individual is under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the job.

Employers tend to be concerned if someone in their company is struggling with substance use, and for good reason. Employers should encourage workers to seek treatment, and when they do so may initiate a Return to Work Agreement (RWA).

If you’re curious about your rights as an employee in regards to a RWA, here’s what you need to know.

How do you define a Return to Work Agreement?

A Return to Work Agreement (RWA) is a written agreement that lays out an employer’s expectations for employee conduct, as well as the consequences for violating these terms. These contracts are designed to protect the company, and offer an employee security in a position (contingent on appropriate conduct). An RWA is also often called a “Last Chance Agreement.”

According to the Job Accommodation Network, RWAs are generally put into place when an employee is in danger of termination, but the company would prefer to retain the employee. In cases of addiction, a drug or alcohol-related issue (such as a relapse) could have resulted in a fire-able offense, but the employer offers a second chance with more strict expectations.

A RWA agreement is a legal contract, and therefore should be taken seriously. If an RWA is violated, most companies would consider it sufficient grounds for termination. Most RWAs will require orderly conduct and strict abstinence in the workplace. Substance use off site could also be a violation of the contract if it impacts job performance.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act and how does it affect Return to Work Agreements after rehab?

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal act that protects those with disabilities in the areas of employment, government services, transportation, public accommodations and so on, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. A substance use disorder qualifies a person for these same rights under the ADA, and this act has some implications for RWAs.

First, the ADA does not mandate employers to offer Return to Work Agreements after rehab. The decision to offer a RWA is up to the company. However, the ADA does offer some job protection for those who choose to participate in substance use treatment. This protection only extends through the end of treatment. Once you return to work, appropriate conduct is your best bet for keeping your job.

While it may seem like a threat to your employment, a Return to Work Agreement can actually be beneficial to a person in recovery. It holds you accountable to your sobriety. However, anyone familiar with substance use disorders knows that relapses are possible, and this is where the agreement can become problematic.

Before signing an RWA, you should understand what it says, what is expected of you, and under what conditions you can be terminated. It is best to consult with a lawyer before signing anything, and get answers to any questions you have. The information presented here is not legal advice.

Some employees have tried using the ADA in wrongful termination cases, with mixed results. This is why it’s important to talk with a lawyer. Know that your employer may not necessarily be violating the ADA by having you sign a Return to Work agreement that adds conditions to your employment after rehab.

Will signing a Return to Work Agreement give my employer grounds to fire me?

Should you violate the terms of your signed agreement, your employer has the legal ability to fire you. This is especially true of work environments like schools and public transportation where employees who use drugs or alcohol present an elevated risk to themselves and others.

To learn more about your rights under the agreement, it’s best to consult with an experienced employment attorney. Also talk with your HR representative to be sure you understand what is expected of you.

Do I have any input in a Return to Work Agreement after rehab?

An agreement needs to be tailored specifically for you. This means you should get your healthcare providers involved. You and your employer or a human resources representative should work together with your physician and treatment providers so that everyone is on the same page.

If your HR representative is reluctant to let treatment professionals collaborate on the agreement, be sure to advocate for yourself. Substance use disorder is a complex disease. A trained healthcare professional will understand the recovery journey better than an unexperienced employer.

Treatment providers can be an advocate for you

The purpose of a Return to Work Agreement is to provide a safe work environment for everyone. Understandably, your employer may be concerned about legal ramifications if you should use drugs or alcohol on the job. However, the RWA should benefit you as well. It should outline reasonable accommodations that you need to perform your job while in recovery.

Meet with your treatment providers as you prepare to re-enter the workforce. Express your concerns to them, and request that they communicate with your HR department so that you receive the support you need to stay in recovery.

If you’ve wondered what a return to work agreement is and what it means for you, Rehab After Work can help. A variety of programs and services provided by compassionate and trained professionals ensures that nothing in your recovery journey slips through the cracks. Contact Rehab After Work today to get started.

PsychiatristPsychiatrist vs. Psychologist vs. Therapist: A Guide to Mental Health Professionals
woman writing as she looks as computerHow to Get Treatment for a Substance Use Disorder Without Losing Your Job