How to Tell Your Coworkers Where You Were During Rehab

How to Tell Your Coworkers Where You Were During Rehab

When you return to work after rehab ends, you may face questions about where you have been

People who return from rehab programs are often unaware of their rights. The human resources (HR) staff at your workplace should educate you on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which covers substance abuse and what it means for your job security. Most state and federal laws require employees to be fit for duty before they return to work. As long as their doctors declare them ready for release, they can come back to the workplace without being questioned by their managers as to where and why they were gone. Employers are also required to comply with any special limitations that a health care provider deems necessary for recovery, such as time off for doctor appointments and introductory limits on work hours.

What Guidelines Dictate How Medical Information Is Shared?

This law also regulates communication, a difficult task when determining who is privy to the details of an employee’s leave. “It depends on the culture,” says Lisa Orndorff, manager of employee relations and engagement for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “At some places, everyone in the hierarchy wants to know all the ins and outs. They don’t know there are restrictions on what they can and need to know.” However, Orndorff notes that supervisors need to know only two bits of information: first, that an employee is out on the Family and Medical Leave Act; second, when the worker anticipates to return.

Orndorff continues that SHRM’s policy entitles a post-rehabilitation employee to a list that shows her which managers have heard of her absence. Having this list may calm an employee’s fears of who knows what, but people are imperfect, so the names on the list may not be the whole story. However, the list will include everyone who has officially been told about a stint in rehab.

If employees do not want to share where they have been – something they are not obligated to divulge – then HR can help them craft the wording so their explanation is both comfortable and discourages questions. This process helps people think through how to answer questions that arise; they could say something like “I do not want to talk about it, but I am grateful to be back at work.” Sometimes, you can choose deflection and gratitude, with which is difficult for other people to take issue.

Can You Grind the Rumor Mill to a Halt?

Confidentiality is legally required regarding your stay in rehab, but shrouding your absence in silence triggers speculation from coworkers, which can turn to suspicion. Orndorff adds that “the rumor mill gets started early, and it doesn’t take much to fan that fire. It’s up to HR to take the necessary steps to keep human nature from getting in the way of a returning employee’s reintegration into the workplace.” Supervisors are the ones who should communicate with employees before, during and after you return from rehab, but HR can help with that task.

Of course, rumors can start up even before an employee leaves for rehab, let alone when he returns. Peers are perceptive of each other, and performance issues (or behavior that arises from addiction) can raise flags within a department even before a manager notices a problem. Also, these flags will not likely fall while an employee is gone. Ergo, utilize whatever professional resources you have to discuss your issue at work, and also learn how to take action for yourself.

Is a Proactive Defense the Best Offense?

Sometimes the best defense comes before an addict returns from rehab. If you put the rumor mill and legalities to rest before you go, then you encourage coworkers to focus more on your contributions to the organization rather than your leave. To stay on the road to recovery, learn to celebrate the little victories as well as the big ones. This advice does not mean other people should treat you as someone who may crack at a moment’s notice, as tiptoeing around an addict actually hampers her reintroduction to the workplace. HR can work with management to bring an absent employee up to date on what she missed while she was gone. At this time, she can also learn about any procedural changes that may have occurred. Eliminating these obstacles from the beginning gets employees in step with their peers, which can improve the morale of a department that has been short one worker short for an extended amount of time. Orndorff points out that this step can be critical depending upon an organization’s culture and interdepartmental relationships.

If someone does good work, then he can regain confidence. If post-rehab employees perform slowly, then HR can encourage managers to give feedback with the angle of getting someone back on track faster. This act helps employees know where they stand and keeps supervisors from getting frustrated1.

According to 11 independent studies, our integrated treatment is one of the best programs in the country. We treat the whole person – mind, body and spirit – and our admissions coordinators are eager to answer your questions through our 24 hour, toll-free helpline. And, while our Dual Diagnosis treatment is highly effective, we have not lost that personal touch you need from rehab. By reading this article, you have come to the right place, so seek help from a treatment provider that is acclaimed for its success and care.


Everson, Kate, “Return from Rehab: Dealing with Demons and Deadlines”, Workforce, , (March 23, 2015).