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Your legal rights to treatment…you cannot be discriminated against for present or past participation in medically needed substance abuse treatment.

Too many people avoid needed intervention and treatment out of fear of repercussions. People fear that once they enroll in a drug treatment program and receive needed treatment they will be punished on the job and that they will be discriminated against in both the public and private sectors.

The reality is that people who continue to use and abuse illegal drugs have very few rights and are not protected under federal or state statutes against discrimination, but those people who have received treatment for substance abuse problems, and who have achieved abstinence, are very well protected from discriminatory practices by a number of federal and state initiatives, including The Americans with Disabilities Act, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, The Fair Housing Act and The Workforce Investment Act.

Although the information as follows is not a complete or legal document of your rights against discrimination, you can in general assume that after achieving sobriety or after having participated in substance abuse therapies, your history of abuse can never be used against you on the job, for housing, or for access to public or private programs.

Your Rights on the Job

The vast majority of employers are compelled to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to any employee seeking time off for a major medically necessary period of treatment. Employers may not sanction or punish any employee who requests needed medical leave, providing they have net certain requirements for eligibility (have worked with the company for more than one year etc.).

Any medically related information that employers may have access to for insurance, Medicaid or other purposes is also completely confidential, and cannot be revealed without your consent.

Your employer must also provide reasonable allowances to you for medically necessary reasons when it would not cause undue harm to do so. For example, if you need to maintain weekly meetings with a psychologist, you have the right to alter your work schedule to allow you to fulfill a medically required treatment.

If on the job drug testing reveals the presence of a legal and prescribed substance such as methadone used therapeutically, an employer can bring no sanctions, nor reveal the presence of the therapeutic substance to anyone without your consent.

You have the right to get treatment, you cannot be punished for seeking treatment, and your employer cannot tell anyone without your consent that you have received treatment.

Additionally, when applying for a job it is illegal for a prospective employer to ask about past substance abuse or a history of treatment for substance abuse. You cannot be discriminated against when applying for a job for having sought needed medical treatment, and employers are not even allowed to ask about it by law.

You also have equal rights to access to federal and state job placement and employment training programs, regardless of any history of substance abuse or treatment.

Your Rights to Housing

You cannot be denied access to a rental or saleable property because of your past history of substance abuse.

You cannot be denied access to public housing because of a past history of substance abuse (although a criminal conviction may alter your status in this respect).

Your Right to Government Services and Programs

You cannot be discriminated against for any publicly available governmental support programs based on a past history of substance abuse. Programs may include social assistance or welfare, housing assistance, job or employment assistance or licensing programs

Your Right to Public/Private Facilities

You cannot be denied access in a discriminatory way to any private facility that provides services to the public. Examples of such facilities include schools, universities, hospitals, emergency shelters, churches, day care centers and senior centers.

You Are Only Protected Once You Have Stopped Abusing Drugs

All of the above legal protections do not apply to people currently engaged in illicit drug taking, and are only applicable to people no longer illegally using drugs of abuse. Most of the above statutes do protect people who are actively abusing alcohol, but alcohol abuse behaviors will often give organizations or employers legitimate grounds for action against the abuser.

Anyone considering treatment for a substance abuse problem should know that their right to confidential treatment is protected under law and that after achieving sobriety they cannot be sanctioned for a history of abuse or treatment, whether on the job, for housing, within governmental programs, or within private/public institutions.


If you feel that you are being discriminated against because of a past history of treatment, or want to learn more about your rights to sanction free substance abuse treatment, please visit the following governmental web sites for more information.

Employment rights 

Medical leave rights

Housing rights

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Page last updated Nov 03, 2011

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