A person’s recovery journey can be rewarding and filled with exciting new opportunities. But living a productive sober lifestyle can also come with its share of challenges. While society’s understanding of addiction has greatly improved over the past few decades, the stigma that surrounds it is still present.
In fact, one of the most common concerns among people battling addiction is the fear of being discriminated against. There are, however, federal non-discrimination laws that are in place to protect people in recovery. Whether a person is newly recovered or has years of sobriety, being knowledgeable of these laws will empower and provide them the resources needed to combat discrimination and continue to succeed in recovery.
Which Laws Protect a Person in Recovery
Federal civil rights laws prohibit discrimination in many areas of life against qualified “individuals with disabilities.” Substance use disorders are recognized as impairments that can and do, for many individuals, limit their major life activities. For this reason, many courts have found that individuals experiencing or who are in recovery for past addictions are individuals with a “disability” protected by Federal law. To be protected as an individual with a “disability” under federal non-discrimination laws, an individual must also show that his or her addiction substantially limits (or limited, in the past) major life activities. Many individuals in recovery, including those in treatment for addiction, are protected from discrimination by the following laws:
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from refusing to employ, fire, or discriminate against people with disabilities for employment, transportation, and education. The federal agencies that help enforce this law include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Transportation, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), and the Department of Justice.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability in programs run by federal agencies as well as programs which receive federal financial assistance. This includes all government agencies, federally-funded projects, K-12 schools and post-secondary schools such as state colleges, universities and vocational and technical colleges. It also requires agencies and programs to take affirmative action when hiring individuals with disabilities and to advance individuals with disabilities who are qualified.
The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled persons in housing and real estate transactions. The FHA protects people with past and current alcohol addiction and past drug addiction — although other Federal laws sometimes limit their rights. Under this law, the following are among the actions that are prohibited:
- Asking a tenant or applicant if they are in addiction recovery or the nature or severity of their past addiction
- Refusing to rent or sell housing
- Refusing to negotiate for housing
- Setting of different terms, conditions, or privileges for the sale or rental of a dwelling
The Workforce Investment Act
The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 provides federal funding for employment and training assistance for individuals, including those who were displaced from their previous jobs. This act prohibits discrimination against an individual on the basis of their past, current, or perceived disability.
If a person in addiction recovery is worried about their past substance abuse affecting their search for housing, obtaining employment, or maintaining their current job, they should take action. Even if they feel that they have been discriminated against in the past for being in recovery, an individual can still receive help, if it is within 180 days of the discriminatory act. An individual can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights or a similar office of the federal agencies that have power to investigate and remedy violations of disability anti-discrimination laws. This method of action doesn’t require a lawyer and can be faster and simpler than a lawsuit while still providing the justice an individual in recovery needs.