If you’ve realized you have a substance use disorder, the decision to seek help to overcome your addiction was probably very difficult. It’s not easy admitting to yourself that you have a problem, and even harder admitting it to your friends and family. You worry it will change how they see you. Even though substance use disorder is classified as a disease rather than a character flaw or decision, it still carries a heavy stigma. You may also be concerned about taking time out of your life to go to an addiction treatment center and question how you’ll get through the coming weeks or months. You shouldn’t have to worry about whether you might lose your job, too.
In many cases, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) will protect your job. Before you make any decisions about your career and rehab, you need to understand your legal rights and your employer’s rights regarding drug and alcohol use.
What is FMLA?
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allowed people to take temporary medical- or family-related leave without endangering their livelihood. Its purpose was to enable mothers and fathers to participate in childrearing, care for a seriously ill spouse, child, or parent, or take leave for their own severe health conditions without fear of losing their job.
The Act guarantees 12 work weeks of unpaid leave in one year, with no interruption in health benefits, in certain situations:
- The birth and care of a newborn during the first year of life
- To care for a child adopted or placed into foster care with the employee within the first year of placement
- For the employee to care for their parent, spouse, or child with a serious health condition
- For the employee who has a severe health condition that keeps them from performing essential job functions
- A qualifying need due to the employee’s spouse, parent, or child being on active military duty
Upon return, the employee must be returned to their job or an equivalent job with the same pay and benefits.
Does FMLA Cover Drug Rehab?
FMLA covers serious health conditions. Substance abuse disorder is considered a serious health condition eligible for FMLA if specific inpatient treatment and continuing care requirements are met.
If you are eligible, you can use FMLA leave for the following reasons related to substance abuse disorder:
- Drug or alcohol addiction treatment
- Treatment for a related illness or condition
- The care of a close family member undergoing treatment for drug or alcohol abuse or related conditions
Proper treatment can only be provided by a healthcare provider or with a provider’s referral. You can’t use leave to take time off because of use or the effects of use. In other words, taking FMLA because of being high or hungover is not a valid use of leave.
FMLA also protects your job status against punishment or retaliation for requesting or using leave for yourself or to care for a close family member undergoing rehab.
Does FMLA Apply to Every Employee?
FMLA applies to all public agencies but not all private employers. Your eligibility for FMLA at a private company depends on how many employees they have and how much time you have worked for them. If your employer has 50 or more employees, you’ve worked there for at least a year, and you have worked 1250 hours or more in the last 12 months, you are eligible for FMLA. There are a few more conditions for the “50 or more” guideline. You can find more information on the U.S. Department of Labor website.
Can An Employer Deny FMLA for Drug Rehab?
Some industries are required to maintain a drug-free workplace; for example, federal contractors and grantees, as well as safety and security-sensitive industries like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Many state and local positions, including first responders, must remain drug-free and may be subjected to drug testing at intervals.
Most other employers are not required to have a drug-free workplace, but many choose to. Private companies have the right to make policies regarding drug use, but they do not have the right to deny your request for FMLA for drug rehab.
While you can take FMLA for drug rehab, individual company policies can come into play. If you work for a drug-free employer, the law may prohibit your employer from demoting, refusing promotion, or firing you for using FMLA. However, they can choose to end your employment for violating their drug policy.
So, your employer must allow you to take FMLA for drug rehab, but they do not have to allow you to remain employed with them afterward. That doesn’t necessarily mean your employer will fire you – many companies would rather see you get the help you need to recover and remain in their employment.
If you believe that you have a problem, it is crucial that you approach your employer rather than being caught via a random drug test or through a coworker. Your employer will have the right to fire you for breaching policies related to drug and alcohol use, and FMLA will no longer be a suitable option for your use.
The fear of losing your job can be frightening, but drug abuse could have much worse consequences for you. As difficult as it may be to have that conversation with your employer, you must get the treatment you need when you need it. Your health, safety, and life are at stake.
If you have questions about your FMLA eligibility, reach out to one of our care coordinators at 888-SOBER-40. We can help you find answers.